CVIndependent

Fri11272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

After reading Friday’s Daily Digest, a reader unsubscribed from the e-mailed version, with this note:

“You shouldn’t be giving your personal opinion in informational articles. And if you are, you should clearly state it’s your opinion.”

Sigh.

OK, even though that reader left us, for those of you remain, here’s a disclaimer: This here Daily Digest includes both news links and bursts of personal commentary, by yours truly, Jimmy Boegle. By the way, there is no such thing as “objective” journalism, and it’s nigh impossible to write “informational articles,” with any degree of complexity, without some sort of “personal opinion” slipping, intentionally or unintentionally, into said article. So there.

I could write a treatise about this topic, but I won’t, because others already have. Google “objective journalism,” as well as “false balance” or “bothsidesism,” and you’ll see a bazillion pieces about all of this.

I’ll try to take the time to address this topic in more depth on a day when there’s less going on (so, sometime in 2023, maybe?), but for now, I’ll discard the words “objective” and “balance” and “opinion,” and just leave you with this: The goal of the Daily Digest, as well as everything else in the Independent, is to offer the reader a bit knowledge, entertainment and/or enlightenment, in a way that’s transparent, and fair, and as free of conflicts of interest as possible.

If you have any questions about this, or want to have a further discussion, hit reply—seriously. I am happy to discuss.

So, here’s the news of the day, along with those aforementioned bursts of political commentary:

• Is it just me, or does this seem, well, very wrong? “The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has informed the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence that it'll no longer be briefing in-person on election security issues, according to letters obtained by CNN. Instead, ODNI will primarily provide written updates to the congressional panels, a senior administration official said.

• Is it just me, or does this seem, well, scary as hell? “One of President Trump’s top medical advisers is urging the White House to embrace a controversial ‘herd immunity’ strategy to combat the pandemic, which would entail allowing the coronavirus to spread through most of the population to quickly build resistance to the virus, while taking steps to protect those in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations, according to five people familiar with the discussions.

The New York Times on Saturday ran a story saying that some coronavirus tests may be too darn sensitive. Wait, what? “Most of these people are not likely to be contagious, and identifying them may contribute to bottlenecks that prevent those who are contagious from being found in time. But researchers say the solution is not to test less, or to skip testing people without symptoms, as recently suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, new data underscore the need for more widespread use of rapid tests, even if they are less sensitive.”

Spain was one of the hardest-hit countries by the virus … and the second wave of COVID-19 has arrived there. According to The New York Times: “France is also surging, as are parts of Eastern Europe, and cases are ticking up in Germany, Greece, Italy and Belgium, too, but in the past week, Spain has recorded the most new cases on the continent by far—more than 53,000. With 114 new infections per 100,000 people in that time, the virus is spreading faster in Spain than in the United States, more than twice as fast as in France, about eight times the rate in Italy and Britain, and ten times the pace in Germany.”

Today is the final day of California’s 2020 Legislature session, and our friends at CalMatters have put together a tracker with some of the more noteworthy legislation that’s made it to the governor’s desk. Check it out.

• “Twitter on Sunday removed a post retweeted by President Donald Trump that falsely claimed the COVID-19 pandemic is not as deadly as officials have reported,” says this lede from USA Today, proving yet again that we are apparently in the worst timeline.

• And here’s yet more proof that this is the worst timeline, compliments of an Arizona State University professor, writing for The Conversation: “In August, the Trump administration announced the plan to end the 2020 Census count a month early, on Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 31. With about a month left before that new end date, fewer than two-thirds of U.S. households have been counted so far. The result will be that the Census will count fewer Black Americans, Indigenous peoples, Asian Americans and Americans of Hispanic or Latino origin than actually live in the U.S. That will mean less public money for essential services in their communities, and less representation by elected officials at the state and federal levels.” Sigh.

• Today marks the end of the deadliest month from COVID-19 in the state of California. Let’s all pray that August remains the deadliest month.

According to CNBC, President Trump’s executive order regarding the deferral of the payroll tax has resulted in a confusing mess.

• The head of the FDA had to come out and say that any decisions on vaccine use will be based on science rather than politics—and the fact that he had to come out and say that is alarming, says NBC News. “(Dr. Stephen) Hahn made the pledge after a series of recent public missteps involving the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—two of the federal agencies critical to the U.S. coronavirus response—which have damaged their reputations at a time when they are needed the most, according to seven prominent doctors and scientists who spoke to NBC News. They say that the recent events are clear signs of political interference from the White House and that they have shaken their trust and confidence in the leadership of the agencies.”

• California needs firefighters. A number of former inmates got firefighting experience while they were in prison. However, former inmates aren’t allowed to be firefighters. The San Francisco Chronicle looks at this dilemma—which, fingers crossed, could be repaired by the Legislature in its final day this year.

• Two seniors at a Wisconsin High School thought it was, well, bonkers that their school had a dress code … but no face-mask requirement. The Lily, a publication of The Washington Post, looks at the successful fight Ava Rheeve and Julia Going put up against the madness.

The New York Times looks how the move to reopen colleges in some places is leading to technological advances that could benefit us all: “The fall of 2020 will go down as a period of profound experimentation at colleges and universities transformed into hothouse laboratories. They are trying out wastewater tests, dozens of health-check apps and versions of homegrown contact technologies that log student movement and exposure risk. And they are experimenting with different testing methods that might yield faster results and be easier to administer, such as using saliva instead of nasal swabs.”

• Online/virtual, not-in-person classes are under way at College of the Desert—despite a malware attack that took down the college’s website and email system. Yeesh!

• As god-awful as this pandemic has been, we can at least take a teeny, tiny amount of solace that it’s spurred some airlines to ditch change and standby feessomething United Airlines started a trend with following an announcement yesterday.

That’s enough for today. Please vote in the first round of the Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll if you haven’t already. Also, if you value the Daily Digest and the other journalism published by the Independent, please consider throwing a few bucks our way. Thanks for reading; the Digest will return on Wednesday. In the meantime, watch CVIndependent.com for updates.

Published in Daily Digest

Let the reopening begin! Again! Hopefully without a horrifying spike in COVID-19 cases this time!

Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced an all-new reopening plan—and gone is that state county watch list and all the various stages that, frankly, didn’t always make sense. In their place is a four-tiered system, with each county’s tier based on two major criteria: the number of new cases per 100,000 people, and the positivity rate. Counties will have to meet each tier’s criteria for at least two weeks before moving up.

What does this mean for us here in Riverside County? Even though we’re in the worst tier (like most of the rest of the state), it means more reopenings in the short-term: Hair salons, barber shops and malls will be able to reopen for some indoor business on Monday.

As for everything else … let’s just say the wider post-Labor Day reopenings the county was hoping for ain’t gonna happen.

According to the state: “At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least three weeks before moving forward. Data is reviewed weekly and tiers are updated on Tuesdays. To move forward, a county must meet the next tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks.

Translated: We are in the “Widespread” tier. The next-best tier is the “Substantial” tier; counties there can allow restaurants to reopen for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, and gyms to open indoors at 10 percent capacity, among other things. But to get admitted into the “Substantial” tier, Riverside County would need to see fewer than seven new COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 people, and get the positivity rate below 8 percent—and do so for at least two weeks.

As of now, according to the state, we’re seeing 10.4 cases per day per 100,000 people, with an 8.4 percent positivity rate.

All in all, this is a much clearer—and much stricter—set of guidelines. If they’re followed, it means we’re much, much less likely to run into another spike.

But it also means a whole lot of businesses are going to remain limited or closed altogether for a very long time. Take bars, for example: According to these new guidelines, they can’t reopen indoors without serving food until a county reaches the least-restrictive “Minimal” tier—when there’s less than one new case per day per 100,000 people, and the positivity rate is less than 2 percent. And even then, they can open only at half-capacity.

More news from the day below.

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• Related, sort of: The owners of theme parks are pushing for them to be allowed to reopen—although based on the guidelines issued today, that doesn’t seem likely. “Legoland California will host a news conference in Miniland U.S.A. on Friday, Aug. 28 with county and city officials who will call for the park and other San Diego County business to be allowed to open,” according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

• On Monday, we linked to a piece about a quick-turnaround, no-lab-needed COVID-19 test being used for employees and flight crews at San Francisco International Airport. Well, this latest potential pandemic “game-changer” just received emergency-use authorization from the FDA—and could come to a place near you within a couple months. Per CNN: “The antigen test, in which involves a nasal swab, uses the same type of technology as a flu test. Abbott says it anticipates producing 50 million BinaxNOW tests a month by October.

• Oh, and if you’re an investor in Abbott Labs’ stock, rejoice, because the feds announced yesterday that they’re spending $750 million to buy 150 million of these rapid tests.

• I am a little biased here, being a journalist and all, but I don’t think this has received as much attention as it should have: The Washington Post published a piece revealing that President Trump’s company has charged the federal government more than $900,000 for Secret Service hotel rooms and various other things. That’s a big deal in and of itself. But then there’s this—an authoritarian-style threat from a White House spokesman for exposing such malfeasance. “The Washington Post is blatantly interfering with the business relationships of the Trump Organization, and it must stop,” Deere wrote in his statement. “Please be advised that we are building up a very large ‘dossier’ on the many false David Fahrenthold and others stories as they are a disgrace to journalism and the American people.” Wow.

• The Washington Post also did a stunning piece showing that Trump’s insistence on public appearances is putting the Secret Service agents tasked with keeping him safe at risk: “In the past two months, dozens of Secret Service agents who worked to ensure the security of the president and Vice President Pence at public events have been sickened or sidelined because they were in direct contact with infected people, according to multiple people familiar with the episodes, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the incidents.

A whole lot of states are basically ignoring the CDC’s stunningly lax new testing guidelines. “California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey and New York all plan to continue to test asymptomatic people who have been exposed to COVID-19, despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggesting that such tests may not be needed,” according to Reuters.

• NBA playoff games are slated to resume tomorrow, and the protests that started in the NBA on Wednesday and spread to other sports are leading to some very good things. According to NPR: “The league has committed to create a social justice coalition, work with elections officials to convert NBA arenas into polling places for the 2020 election and create advertising spots to promote ‘greater civic engagement in national and local elections.’”

CNN posted a series of before-and-after satellite images showing the awful devastation Hurricane Laura has wrought in southwestern Louisiana. And NBC News examined fears that the evacuations forced by the hurricane could cause more spread of COVID-19. Similarly, The Conversation examined how the hurricane and California’s wildfires could make the pandemic worse.

• Sign No. 273,464 that this recession/depression is going to be lengthy and difficult: MGM Resorts is laying off 18,000 peopleabout a quarter of its employees in the U.S.

• As the California Legislature works feverishly on unfinished business before the session’s end on Monday, they’re doing so without most Senate Republicans being allowed in the Capitol—because they were exposed to a state senator who has COVID-19.

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week. Along with hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr, I talked to Palm Springs Pride head Ron deHarte about the plans for a socially distant Pride in November, and Palm Springs City Councilmember Grace Garner about the controversial vote on the new downtown park.

• We’ve linked to stories in this space before regarding the possibility that sewage testing could stop coronavirus outbreaks early. Well, it appears that very thing happened at the University of Arizona, where two—but only two—people in a dorm were found to have COVID-19 after the virus was found in wastewater samples.

The delayed and much-changed Tour de France bicycle race starts tomorrow. Key quote, from The Associated Press: “Amid the pandemic, the usually boisterous celebration of cycling that for decades has drawn packed throngs of cheering roadside spectators promises to be a strange and more subdued affair, moved for the first time in its 117-year history out of its traditional July slot to a September month when many fans will be back at school or at work after summer vacations.

• CNET takes an in-depth look at the nasty battle taking place over California’s gig-worker laws—in which Lyft and Uber’s representatives are engaging in at-times nasty attacks against people who support the move to make the rideshare apps’ drivers employees rather than contractors.

• And finally, we’re just going to leave this quote from a New York Post article right here, and try very, very hard to forget all about it: “Scientists now say that the coronavirus may be able to spread throughout buildings, via toilets and drain pipes—an especially alarming prospect for apartment dwellers with suspect plumbing. The discovery was made in China, after researchers swabbed the “long vacant” apartment directly below a family of five who tested positive for COVID-19. Despite the fact that no one was living in the apartment below, the researchers found traces of the virus on the sink, faucet and shower handle.”

That’s enough news for what’s been a crazy news week. Wash your hands. Be kind, and enjoy your weekend. Please take the time to vote in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll! The Daily Digest will be back Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Today is one of the biggest, craziest news days I have ever seen. Let’s get right to it:

The reverberations of the shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday in Kenosha, Wis., continue to intensify. First and most awful: A 17-year-old was arrested after allegedly shooting three people, two fatally, at a protest in Kenosha late last night.

• Buzzfeed is reporting that the alleged shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, was front and center in the crowd at a January Trump rally in January. “Kyle Howard Rittenhouse’s social media presence is filled with him posing with weapons, posting ‘Blue Lives Matter,’ and supporting Trump for president. Footage from the Des Moines, Iowa, rally on Jan. 30 shows Rittenhouse feet away from the president, in the front row, to the left of the podium. He posted a TikTok video from the event.”

• To protest the shooting of Blake, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to not take the court for Game 5 of their best-of-seven NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic this afternoon—a moment unparalleled in modern sports history. Shortly thereafter, all of today’s NBA playoff games were postponed, as were all of today’s scheduled WNBA games. The players’ strike then spread to Major League Soccer as well as Major League Baseball, where several games—including the game involving the Milwaukee Brewers—have been called off in protest.

Jacob Blake’s family says he is paralyzed and dealing with serious internal injuries.

A professor of labor and employment relations from Penn State, writing for The Conversation, says police unions should not be considered part of the broader U.S. labor movement. Key quote: “Exclusively protecting the interests of their members, without consideration for other workers, also sets police unions apart from other labor groups. Yes, the first priority of any union is to fight for their members, but most other unions see that fight in the context of a larger movement that fights for all workers. Police unions do not see themselves as part of this movement. With one exception—the International Union of Police Associations, which represents just 2.7 percent of American police—law enforcement unions are not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the U.S. labor body that unites all unions.”

• In other news: Hurricane Laura is approaching Texas and Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane, and more than a half-million people have been told to evacuate. It could be the most intense storm to hit that area in recorded history, and is drawing a lot of comparisons to Hurricane Katrina. “Some areas when they wake up Thursday morning, they’re not going to believe what happened,” Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist at the hurricane center, told NBC News. “What doesn’t get blown down by the wind could easily get knocked down by the rising ocean waters pushing well inland.”

• The CDC just issued new guidelines regarding COVID-19 testing that have left public-health experts around the country completely baffled: According to CNN: “The new guidelines raise the bar on who should get tested, advising that some people without symptoms probably don't need it—even if they've been in close contact with an infected person.” According to CNN, the Trump administration pressured the CDC to make the change. Unbelievable.

• Where was Dr. Anthony Fauci when these changes were being made? In surgery. Yes, really. According to Axios: “Anthony Fauci was in the operating room under general anesthesia last Thursday when the White House coronavirus task force approved the narrowing of CDC testing recommendations to exclude asymptomatic individuals, according to CNN's Sanjay Gupta.” Fauci also told Gupta he’s “concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is."

• Heading in the opposite direction: Gov. Newsom today announced plans for the state to double its COVID-19 testing capacity, and reduce turn-around time. However, note the dates—this is not happening right away. The opening paragraph of the news release: “Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that California has signed a groundbreaking contract with a major diagnostics company, which will allow California to process up to an additional 150,000 COVID-19 diagnostic tests a day, with a contractual turnaround time of 24-48 hours. The goal is to stand up a laboratory facility and begin processing tens of thousands of additional tests by November 1 and run at full capacity by ­no later than March 1, 2021.”

• Given that March date above, this is related: The Conversation breaks down the reasons why it’s going to take quite a while to get vaccine produced at a large-enough scale. Key quote: “The shrinking and outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing capacity has reached into all sectors. Vaccines are no exception. … When a coronavirus vaccine is approved, production of other vaccines will need to continue as well. With the flu season each year and children being born every day, you can’t simply reallocate all existing vaccine manufacturing capacity to COVID-19 vaccine production. New additional capacity will be needed.”

The New York Times has started a college COVID-19 case tracker. The takeaway: “A New York Times survey of more than 1,500 American colleges and universities—including every four-year public institution, every private college that competes in NCAA sports and others that identified cases—has revealed at least 26,000 cases and 64 deaths since the pandemic began.”

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is working on a different vaccine, of sortsone that can be taken as a nasal spray.

You know all that furor you saw on social media regarding Melania Trump’s revamp of the White House Rose Garden? Well, it is all a bunch of inaccurate nonsense.

• Public health experts around the country are keeping their eyes out for possible coronavirus cases that spread at the massive Sturgis Motorcycle Rally a week and a half ago. According to The Associated Press: “An analysis of anonymous cell phone data from Camber Systems, a firm that aggregates cell phone activity for health researchers, found that 61 percent of all the counties in the U.S. have been visited by someone who attended Sturgis, creating a travel hub that was comparable to a major U.S. city.”

• Related: Genetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 reveals that the annual leadership meeting of drug-company Biogen, late in February in Boston, became a super-spreader event for the coronavirus. Key quote: “A sweeping study of nearly 800 coronavirus genomes … has found that viruses carrying the conference’s characteristic mutation infected hundreds of people in the Boston area, as well as victims from Alaska to Senegal to Luxembourg. As of mid-July, the variant had been found in about one-third of the cases sequenced in Massachusetts and 3 percent of all genomes studied thus far in the United States.”

• The business devastation as a result of the pandemic-caused economic shutdown is unparalleled, as revealed by a San Francisco Chamber of Commerce study showing that more than half of the storefronts in SF have closed since COVID-19 arrived.

• Related and local: Local restaurants continue to announce closures. Evzin Mediterranean Cuisine's owner announced on social media today that both locations will be no more after this weekend.

• From the Independent: Indie music venues across the country are asking Congress to offer them a lifeline—including the renowned Pappy and Harriet’s. Pappy’s owner Robyn Celia answered questions from the Independent about the effort—and how Pappy’s is surviving the shutdown.

• Also from the Independent, a little bit of positive news: The Palm Springs Cultural Center has big plans for the fall, even though the doors to the building will likely remain closed through at least the end of the year. A lot of events—including showings for the annual LGBT film fest Cinema Diverse—will take place around the Cultural Center’s new drive-in screen.

• Here’s this week’s District 4 COVID-19 report from the county. (District 4 is the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Same as last week: Hospitalizations and cases are ticking down; the weekly positivity rate remains crazy high; I remain confused as to the methodology behind the positivity numbers.

• MedPage Today explains the reasons why scientists remain unsure about the efficacy of convalescent plasma, which received emergency-use authorization from the FDA in a somewhat controversial fashion. The main reason: The biggest study of the plasma so far “was observational only, with no untreated control group. That makes the findings merely hypothesis-generating, and can't offer any firm conclusions. That's fine for issuing an emergency use authorization (EUA), but not so much for making claims about survival benefit, independent researchers said.”

The San Jose Mercury News did an amazing story on Vacaville resident Chad Little. He lost his house to a fire in 2015—and decided he was not going to go through that experience again, so he stayed behind to fight the fire himself … and when the water went out, he turned to the wettest thing he could find to fight the blaze: A 30-pack of Bud Light.

If you’re someone who prays, please pray for coastal Texas and Louisiana, as well as for Jacob Blake. Stay safe, everyone—and thanks for reading the Independent.

Published in Daily Digest

We here at the Independent debated postponing our annual Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll this year.

Why? For one thing, the city magazine and the daily already do readers’ polls—and the timing of the daily’s poll overlaps with ours, which confuses the heck out of everyone.

For another thing … as you know, we’re in the middle of a raging pandemic, which has curtailed or shuttered many of the businesses and organizations that are featured in our poll.

However, upon further reflection, we decided not to postpone our poll … so here we go! First-round (nomination) voting will be open through Monday, Sept. 14. Go here to access the ballot, where you will fill in the blank in each category. (In other words, we have no pre-determined list of candidates.)

Why did we decide to press forward? Well, for one thing—and I say this with all due respect to the winners and everyone else otherwise involved—those other readers’ polls are kind of terrible.

For our Best of Coachella Valley poll, we ask each reader to vote only once per round, because our goal is to come up with a slate of truly excellent finalists and winners. The other polls have no such prohibition, because the goal of those polls is not to get a great slate of finalists and winners—the goal is for the publications to get as much web traffic as possible from readers visiting their websites over and over again to vote.

The other reason why we pressed forward: There’s never been a more important time to shine a light on the valley’s best businesses, individuals and organizations, because so many of us are struggling right now.

The top vote-getters in the first round of voting will advance to the final round, which will take place at CVIndependent.com starting Monday, Sept. 28. The Best of Coachella Valley results will be announced at CVIndependent.com on Monday, Nov. 23, and in our special December print edition.

Thanks in advance to all of you wonderful readers who take the time to vote!

Today’s news—and, boy oh boy, is there a lot of it:

Sigh. Here’s a lede from an NBC News story: “A Black man was shot in the back multiple times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday, a bystander's video showed, prompting community protests and widespread anger.” Thank god this time the victim lived: Jacob Blake, 29, is in serious but stable condition. Here’s what happened, according to Blake’s attorney: “Blake was helping to deescalate a domestic incident when police drew their weapons and tasered him. As he was walking away to check on his children, police fired their weapons several times into his back at point blank range. Blake’s three sons were only a few feet away and witnessed police shoot their father.”

This is why it’s not a good idea to have large gatherings of people, especially indoors, right now: “The number of COVID-19 cases connected to a wedding reception in Millinocket (Maine) continues to climb, with state health officials saying on Saturday that they could trace 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus to the reception. That’s up from 32 confirmed cases on Friday.”

• If you’ve ever doubted whether an absence of competent federal leadership can truly affect issues at the local level, this story will erase those dounts rather quickly: The Associated Press reports that distance-learning efforts are being hampered by a laptop shortage. Key quote: “The world’s three biggest computer companies, Lenovo, HP and Dell, have told school districts they have a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops, in some cases exacerbated by Trump administration sanctions on Chinese suppliers, according to interviews with over two dozen U.S. schools, districts in 15 states, suppliers, computer companies and industry analysts.”

• We’re only three stories in, and I need a drink. Or three. So here’s the Independent’s most recent cocktail column, in which Kevin Carlow offers guidance on how to make all the basic drinks. Cheers.

• Aaaand now back to the news, and this horrifying Business Insider headline: “Rats reported feeding on packages of rotted fruit and meat as postmaster general’s cutbacks unleash chaos at California's mail centers.” Sigh. And Ew.

• More bad news: It’s now been proven that a person can indeed get COVID-19 more than once. MedPage Today offers the damning details. But, no panicking! Key quote: “‘My hope is that while reinfection has been documented, it is a rare or uncommon occurrence,’ Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was not involved in the research, told MedPage Today. ‘So far that seems to be the case, but we're still only a few months into this pandemic.’”

CBS News-YouGov just did a poll asking people about the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. … and sit down for this one: “57 percent of Republican respondents said the U.S. death toll for COVID-19 was ‘acceptable,’ while 43 percent said it was ‘unacceptable.’ Republicans were the only partisan group of which a majority of voters said the number of deaths was acceptable. Among Democrats, 10 percent said the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. was acceptable, while 90 percent said it was unacceptable. For independents, 33 percent labeled the death toll as acceptable, and 67 percent called it unacceptable.” For the record, that U.S. death toll is currently approaching 180,000.

The FDA on Sunday, after pressure and criticism from the president, decided to authorize the emergency use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients. The move has been criticized by many experts—including those from the WHO, Reuters reports.

• OK, here’s some actual good news: California has been approved for the extra $300 in weekly unemployment funds. BUT it’s going to take several weeks to actually start happening, and there are all sorts of exclusions. Bleh. The San Jose Mercury News explains.

• More good news: It appears the number of coronavirus infections nationwide is decreasing—and, according to The New York Times, experts say that’s because various restrictions, like mask ordinances, are having an effect.

The New York attorney general is looking into possible corruption in the Trump Organization. Key quote: “The attorney general’s office said it began investigating after Trump’s former lawyer and ‘fixer,’ Michael Cohen, told Congress in February 2019 that Trump had used these statements to inflate his net worth to lenders. The filing said that Eric Trump had been scheduled to be interviewed in the investigation in late July, but abruptly canceled that interview. The filing says that Eric Trump is now refusing to be interviewed, with Eric Trump’s lawyers saying, ‘We cannot allow the requested interview to go forward … pursuant to those rights afforded to every individual under the Constitution.’” Hmm.

Two political science professors, writing for The Conversation, examine a negative aspect to mail-in voting you may not have thought of: secrecy, or a lack thereof. Key quote: “Mail-in voting still requires an official ballot, and can still be validated and counted anonymously. That eliminates what’s commonly known as voter fraud—where someone casts a ballot on behalf of someone else. But it doesn’t address outside forces influencing the authentic voter at the moment they make their decision. The voter marks the ballot outside the supervision of election monitors – often at home. It’s possible to do so in secret. But secrecy is no longer guaranteed, and for some it may actually be impossible.”

The weather is finally giving overwhelmed and tired firefighters a break in Northern California. But dry and dangerous conditions remain.

Another county has been removed from the state’s COVID-19 watch list, meaning some businesses and schools may begin to reopen soon there. Congratulations to … (checks notes) … Orange County!?

• OK, this is genuinely a very cool thing, because it shows the technology exists, and could be more widespread soon: The San Francisco International Airport has set up rapid COVID-19 testing for employees and flight crews (but not, as of yet, passengers). Key quote: “Technicians use an Abbott Labs device, about the size of a toaster oven, to analyze samples obtained using a nasal swab. Abbott Labs said the device ‘amplifies the RNA hundreds of millions of times to make the virus detectable—returning test results in 13 minutes or less.’

• The city of Palm Springs will soon be closing down part of Palm Canyon Drive to allow restaurants to expand. “The pilot program, which is expected to kick off within the next two weeks, would allow for a full closure of Palm Canyon Drive between Baristo Road and Tahquitz Canyon Way,” says the news release.

• Also Palm Springs downtown-related, from the Independent: The PS City Council agreed to cut $3 million in funding from the under-construction downtown park when it passed the new budget several months ago. However, on Aug. 6, in a 3-2 vote, full funding for the park was restored—a move that infuriated many within the local business community. Kevin Fitzgerald talks to the City Council and breaks it all down.

• This damn pandemic has claimed another local restaurant: Zobo and Meester’s announced today it will close for good on Sept. 9.

• Alt-country great Justin Townes Earle died last week at his Nashville home, at the age of 38. You can read his New York Times obituary here. He appeared at Stagecoach several times, and spoke to the Independent in advance of the 2017 festival. “Nobody should ever expect me to make the same record twice, or (for the records to) even to be in line with each other,” he said. “I’m a whimsical motherfucker.” RIP, Justin.

• We’re now entering the “Let’s Get Weird!” section: Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned from Liberty University today after the news broke that his wife—with Falwell’s knowledge and occasional from-a-distance participation—apparently had a long affair with a younger man who was a “pool attendant” when they met. From NPR: “Falwell's departure comes on the heels of an investigation by Reuters on Monday in which Falwell's former business partner, Giancarlo Granda, claimed he had a multiyear sexual relationship with Falwell's wife, Becki, which involved Falwell looking on while the pair engaged in sex acts.

Or maybe he isn’t resigning. Hmm.

KFC has temporarily dropped its “finger lickin’ good” slogan, because, you know, WE CAN’T LICK OURSELVES ANYMORE BECAUSE OF COVID. Wait. That’s not exactly what I meant … oh, never mind.

That’s a LOT of news for today. Be safe. Be careful. Be happy. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, to help us keep doing quality local journalism. The Digest will return Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

To say that I miss live music is a gross understatement.

I write about music. I play music, with two bands and as a solo artist—and, of course, I enjoy going to concerts. One of the biggest parts of my life has been pretty much nonexistent for almost six months, and I’m hurting.

So, too, are the country’s music venues.

The Save Our Stages movement is an online petition by more than 2,000 independent venues—including Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace and The Alibi—calling for support from Congress. The movement is led by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), whose mission is to “preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters throughout the United States.” The goals are for Congress to provide long-term assistance to shuttered businesses, offer relief through tax credits, and continue unemployment-insurance benefits.

While the desert is home to a variety of music venues, none of them are more stored than Pappy and Harriet’s, a small and not-so-secret restaurant and live-music venue located in Pioneertown. What was once a cantina set on Pioneertown’s Western movie lot is now a mecca for music and mystique. Some of the biggest acts in music have played Pappy’s, including Paul McCartney, Leon Russell, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys and many others.

I reached out to Robyn Celia, the owner/talent buyer at Pappy and Harriet’s, to talk about Pappy’s and the Save Our Stages movement. While Pappy’s is not currently hosting shows, the restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday for outdoor dining, takeout and delivery. She agreed to answer my questions via email rather than the telephone, due to a lack of cell service.

“We are hanging in there,” Celia said. “Very lucky that we have lots of outdoor seating. We put up shade covering and installed two mister systems in our beer garden and the outdoor show space.

“The future is unknown! We are taking it one day at a time.”

Gone for the time being is the revenue from live performances, which due to high demand are booked well in advance—and often sell out.

“We are now booking and rescheduling shows for 2021 and hoping for the best,” Celia said.

Bands and venues all over the U.S. have found innovative ways to continue offering some form of live music, including live streams and drive-in shows. Pappy and Harriet’s is tapping into this trend, recently launching Pappy and Harriet's: A Distanced Concert Series on YouTube, which features local bands performing at an empty Pappy’s.

“Mario Lalli, an amazing musician and lifelong local, wanted to help keep Pappy's name out there in the music community and help local artists keep their creative hearts beating,” Celia said about the YouTube series.

Celia and her team at Pappy and Harriet’s are doing their best to spread the word about the Save Our Stages movement.

“NIVA has been tireless in their approach to get Congress to see how important independent venues are to all of our lives,” she said. “We have been trying to help raise awareness through our social media.

While the future of live music is uncertain—there’s another gross understatement—Celia expressed hope that concerts, in some form, will return to Pioneertown soon.

“I think we are very open to seeing how we can host a very small show outside,” Celia said. “The safety of our staff and customers are more important than anything else, so it really is a day-by-day situation. We are all making the best of it up here and hoping for better days. Come out for lunch and dinner!”

For more information on Save Our Stages, visit saveourstages.com. For more information on Pappy and Harriet’s, visit www.pappyandharriets.com.

For more than five years, Palm Springs residents and business owners have waited for the arrival of a showplace downtown park. In 2018, the Palm Springs City Council approved plans to deliver the attraction by the fall of this year—plans which were derailed by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve taken a long time to get to this point,” councilmember Lisa Middleton told the Independent, “and I want to see a completed project there.”

Pretty much everyone agrees with that statement. However, there’s significant disagreement about how the project will be completed—which became apparent after a contentious 3-2 vote at the Aug. 6 Palm Springs City Council meeting.

The short version of the controversy is this: Councilmembers Grace Garner, Christy Holstege and Dennis Woods voted to proceed with the original, fully funded plans for the park—overturning a decision made two months prior to scale back those plans and save the city about $3 million. Middleton and Mayor Geoff Kors disagreed.

The longer version is much more nuanced and complicated.

“As a council, we recognize that we are in a fiscal emergency,” Kors told the Independent. “With the decision to reduce staffing dramatically by cutting 80 staff positions in fire, emergency medical, police, facilities, planning and permitting, there’s no department that didn’t have substantial cuts. I’ve been out there advocating for more funding (help) through communications with the White House, with our member of Congress and with our state elected officials. But at a time when we see businesses closing and people unemployed, we should not be spending money to the extent called for by the original downtown park design, when every other capital-improvement project has been stopped, including road re-paving and money for our community centers and our neighborhood parks. So I supported doing a modified park, as the majority of council did previously, rather than funding the entire park right now.”

Holstege—in the middle of a re-election campaign against two opponents—explained her vote to proceed with the fully funded park plan.

“In the budget discussions (in June), the majority of council had tried to defund $3 million from the existing park project, and save those funds for reserves, while building a temporary park in the meantime.

“I, along with a (different) majority of the City Council, decided that it would be more prudent to go forward with the initial park design, because the city has already spent $3 million in building the initial design. So if we were to pause or cancel or change the park, much of that $3 million would be wasted. There are $600,000 in parts that we’ve already purchased for the water feature that would have been wasted. Already, there’s been a lot of underground work for the water feature and other parts of the park. We have an active contract with the contractor, so we were looking at roughly $400,000 in delay and cancellation fees. That’s already $1 million in waste of taxpayer dollars.

“Then we were looking at probably $1 million in city funds just to put in grass and decomposed granite, which is basically dirt, and there would be very little shade. I think that’s an unusable park. And then one day, it would probably cost another $1 million to rip that grass out to put in the future park. Then we got an estimate that it might cost us double to build the rest of the originally designed park at a later date, as opposed to right now while it’s in construction.”

What caused the sudden shift in support for the park within the City Council? Most notably, city staff members shared news at the Aug. 6 meeting that a previously unexpected $3 million in Measure J sales taxes was projected to arrive during the 2020-2021 fiscal year—money that could offset the $3 million in costs planned to be returned to the city’s ledger.

Another contributing factor may have been the admirable salesmanship displayed by the park’s renowned architect, Mark Rios. As one can see in the video of the meeting on the city of Palm Springs website, Rios touted the benefits in store for tourists and residents thanks to the park’s ambiance and appearance, backing his belief that the City Council should stick with the original full park construction plan regardless of the widespread financial pain.

Middleton said her decision to vote on Aug. 6 against the fully funded original park plan was strictly budgetary.

“At this point, we do not know how long the COVID-19 crisis will continue,” Middleton said. “So I felt that the prudent thing for us to do was to wait and get some more months of revenue in to see where we’re going to be in terms of finances.”

Kors said he voted against the fully funded original park plan on Aug. 6 because of the process.

“Several months ago, we stated that we wanted the park to be reviewed and have alternatives for a reduced park brought back (for council consideration),” Kors said. “When the (2020-21 fiscal-year budget vote) came, the majority voted to reduce the park funding by $3 million and requested that different options to do that come back to council. So, on the (Aug. 6) agenda, there were six different options—and none of them was to overturn the prior vote and approve the original design. So, neither council nor the public had any indication that this was going to be brought up. Given the transparency and new rules that we’ve passed over the last few years, I thought if that discussion were to be had, it should have been properly noticed so that people were aware of it.

“The public had no idea that there was any extra money. It wasn’t on the agenda, and if we’re going to put more money back in the budget, then that needed to be noticed in the agenda, so that the public and the council were aware—and then we should have discussed what the top priority was for that funding. For me, I would have put it into public bathrooms at community centers and neighborhood parks. That was the unanimous recommendation of the Measure J Commission as to what we do with that money. So I thought that the vote was dismissive of the commissions. It was dismissive of community-member comments who were involved in the original park design. It was dismissive of what the downtown businesses said was best for downtown. And I think it was improper to delegate money that hasn’t been confirmed for certain, without the public even knowing that this was a possibility.”

On Aug. 13, the controversy received fuel in the form of an open letter from the directors of three Palm Springs business organizations—the Main Street Palm Springs Downtown and Uptown Business Association, the Palm Springs Hospitality Association, and P.S. Resorts—opposing the fully funded original park plan.

“What happened at last week’s City Council meeting was focused discussion on returning to the original $9.5 million park design,” said the letter, in part. “This was not the discussion noticed in the published agenda. The agenda detailed six less expensive park options. As such, it was questionable and non-transparent; it provided no opportunity for residents and stakeholders to express their opinions. … As community leaders, we call for an open and inclusive discussion on shared community priorities, with updated and accurate budget information. We call on the mayor and councilmembers to hold a special public meeting to discuss how the $3 million of newly available funds should be spent, and to pause any action on the downtown park.”

Holstege said everyone is not “sharing the same set of facts” about the park.

“I was a bit concerned to see some facts in that op-ed that were not true, and were different from the facts that were presented to council,” she said. “We’re in very difficult times as a city and a country, and we’re all facing difficult personal times. I think it’s important to come together as a community and work from the same set of facts, disagree with respect, and understand where each other is coming from. I think some of that is missing in our civil discourse right now because of where we are as a country. … I reached out already to the business community when I saw their op-ed. They want a private space for private events, and the Marilyn (Monroe) statue downtown in a location that’s visible. So I think we can keep working together to achieve everyone’s goals, and we don’t have to be opposed.”

Both Kors and Middleton said they hoped the matter would return to the City Council for another vote.

“Whether this could come back as a budget discussion, and if one of the people who voted for it think it’s appropriate to bring it back so the public can have more input, are questions the city attorney will have to answer,” Kors said.

Published in Local Issues

Happy Friday, all. On one hand, we’re one week closer to the end of the pandemic.

On the other, we’re one week closer to the end … period. Sigh.

So … let’s get to the news:

• Fires continue to devastate California, especially in the northern part of the state. As the Los Angeles Times grimly puts it: “A series of wildfires burning an area larger than the state of Rhode Island have depleted California’s firefighting resources and triggered requests for help from across the West, the East Coast and even as far as Australia.” 

Among the things being threatened by the fires: A major power plant.

• Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified before Congress today, pledging to make sure vote-by-mail ballots were handled in a timely fashion, and saying it was “outrageous” to suggest that he—a major Trump donor—would intentionally mess things up to help the president. There was also this, according to The New York Times: “Under intense pressure from Democrats, however, he refused to reverse other steps, like removing hundreds of blue mailboxes and mail-sorting machines, that he said his predecessors had initiated in response to a steady decline in mail volume.”

The so-called Golden State Killer was sentenced to multiple life-in-prison sentences today, after agreeing to a plea deal in June that meant he’d avoid the death penalty. The Associated Press, via SFGate, has the details.

• The president has made several alarming election-related statements as of late—including a threat to send law enforcement officers to polling locations to monitor things. Would it be legal for him to do such a thing? CNN says probably would not be.

In other Trump-related news: The endless fight to not turn over his tax returns continues.

Our partners at CalMatters look at one of the more contentious proposals being debated by the California Legislature. The lede: “It doesn’t sound like an idea that would generate much controversy in a statehouse dominated by Democrats: Should more California workers be assured they can return to their jobs if they take time off to care for a sick family member or new baby? But a proposal to do just that has caused a major rift among Democrats in the California Capitol. As lawmakers enter the final week of the legislative session, it’s shaping up as a bitter fight and casting uncertainty on a key piece of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plans to advance what he calls a ‘parents’ agenda.’”

• From the Independent comes a piece regarding something else the Legislature is pondering during these final days of the session—an expansion of protections for farmworkers and, by extension, a significant part of the food-supply chain. Key quote, from Assemblyperson Eduardo Garcia: “We’re talking about PPE investments, greater testing and permanent housing for our farmworkers. Then, of course, we’re talking about transparency and accountability to make sure that we’re accounting for farmworkers who test positive (for COVID-19) to make sure that we isolate them and keep others safe from becoming infected. We’re not asking for things outside the norm. We’re asking for greater investment in, and attention to, a very important part of our essential workforce that ties directly into our strong economy as it relates to the $50 billion agriculture industry.”

Native American communities are being hammered by COVID-19. MedPage Today examines the reasons why, with the help of some recently completed studies and data-crunching.

• The Los Angeles Times takes a fascinating look at the case of Qian Lang, who became the first—and, for weeks, only known—COVID-19 victim identified in Los Angeles. He was also one of the first patients to get treated with remdesivir. Key quote: “The 38-year-old salesman played an important role, not widely known until now, in a frantic race to understand the deadly new virus before it hit the United States in full force. Public health officials and researchers looked to him as a real-time, flesh-and-blood case study.

Can you imagine working as a school nurse these days? According to The New York Times: “School nurses are already in short supply, with less than 40 percent of schools employing one full time before the pandemic. Now those overburdened health care specialists are finding themselves on the front lines of a risky, high-stakes experiment in protecting public health as districts reopen their doors amid spiking caseloads in many parts of the country.”

Also from The New York Times comes a story about an amazing piece of anecdotal evidence supporting immunity in recovered COVID-19 patients, regarding an outbreak on a Seattle fishing vessel: “More than a hundred crew members aboard the American Dynasty were stricken by the infection over 18 days at sea. But three sailors who initially carried antibodies remained virus-free, according to a new report.”

• Chin up, buttercup! A professor of medicine, writing for The Conversation, offers nine reasons to be optimistic that we will, in fact, have a widely available COVID-19 vaccine next year.

• Also from The Conversation: If it seems sometimes like Democrats and Republicans these days are living in alternate realities … well, that’s because we kind of are—and the pandemic has only served to make those “realities” even more different.

• Partially because of the pandemic, and partially because of a heightened awareness of racism and inequities in the restaurant industry, there will be no more James Beard restaurant awards until 2022. The San Francisco Chronicle explains.

• I returned to the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week to discuss COVID-19, Palm Springs city government and varied other things with hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr, as well as fellow guest Dr. Laura Rush. See and hear what we have to say here.

Finally … in some parts of California, ash is falling from the skies due to the wildfires. But in Switzerland, it’s cocoa power that’s falling from the skies.

That’s enough for the week! Please, have a safe, enjoyable and enriching weekend. Oh, and wear a mask when you’re around others—and please consider throwing a few bucks our way to support independent local journalism, but only if you can afford to do so. The Daily Digest will be back Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

California, to be frank, is a mess right now: According to Gov. Gavin Newsom, there are 367 major fires burning statewide right now.

Let me repeat that, because it’s shocking: There are 367 major fires burning right now.

The Los Angeles Times has a summary here. I also recommend checking out SFGate.com for free coverage of the various fires in Northern California. This is bad, folks.

Other news of the day:

• The Post Office, to be frank, is a mess right now. The American College of Physicians issued a statement expressing concern that the recent slowdowns in delivery could kill people: “Across the country millions of patients regularly depend on the U.S. mail to receive their prescription medications. There are already reports from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which fills 80 percent of its prescriptions by mail, that veterans have experienced significant delays in their mail-order prescription drugs. A delay in receiving a necessary prescription could be life-threatening.”

Did you know the U.S. Postal Service delivers live poultry? Yes, it does, and the delays are causing horrifying problems with that, too.

• The recent uproar over the USPS dismantling has caused major Trump donor and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to say further operational changes will be suspended until after the election. But he hasn’t said whether the USPS would undo the changes already made.

Why in the world, in 2020, is California subject to rolling blackouts due to a lack of electricity? Our partners at CalMatters offer this helpful explainer.

• Let’s take a break from all of the heinous news for this: The Census is hiring temp workers. According to an email to the Independent: “The U.S. Census Bureau is hiring hundreds of workers for temporary jobs available in Riverside County for the 2020 Census. The 2020 Census Jobs website is now accepting applications for Census Takers at pay of $17 per hour. Census takers will visit the households that have not responded to the census, speaking with residents, and using electronic devices (such as smartphones issued by the Census Bureau) to collect census data. Census takers will follow local public health guidelines when they visit, and will be wearing masks. Census takers must complete a virtual COVID-19 training on social distancing protocols and other health and safety guidance before beginning their work in neighborhoods. Apply now at 2020census.gov/jobs or call 1-855-JOB-2020 (562-2020).”

Here’s the weekly District 4 COVID-19 report, from Riverside County. (District 4 is the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Again, it shows hospitalizations trending down, cases slightly trending down (maybe), and a crazy-high 16.4 percent weekly positivity rate. Worst of all, we lost 20 more of our friends and neighbors.

• Meanwhile, Eisenhower Health’s latest stats show the weekly positivity rate at their facilities trending downward, and currently in (the high) single digits. So … I remain confused.

Desert Hot Springs has been the hardest-hit valley city when it comes to unemployment during the pandemic. That’s the conclusion of data-crunching by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership; see the breakdown here.

• From the Independent: Chef Andie Hubka is known for her three highly regarded restaurants in Indio and La Quinta, as well as her Cooking With Class school. Where other valley chefs have cut back service during this era of takeout and patio dining, Hubka has actually gone in the opposite direction by launching a brand-new concept, Citrine. Andrew Smith explains.

• Also from the Independent: Wine columnist Katie Finn looks at how South Africa has turned to alcohol prohibition as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19but that move, enforced at times with brutal violence, has devastated the country’s wine industry.

• The FDA was getting set to give emergency authorization for the use of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients as a treatment for the disease—but then federal health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, stepped in and stopped the authorization, saying the science isn’t clear yet. The New York Times explains.

• Speaking of unclear science: In this space, we recently linked to one of many articles, all from reliable sources, about a study regarding the effectiveness of various face masks. One of the key takeaways, as reported, was that neck gaiters could actually make matters worse. Well … as Science News reports, that conclusion may not be accurate. One of the problems: “The study was meant to figure out how to evaluate masks, not compare their effectiveness.”

• Keep in mind what the last two stories have said about the vagaries of reporting on studies these days when we bring you this lede, from MedPage Today: “More data from observational studies, this time in hospitalized patients, indicated that famotidine (Pepcid AC), which is used to treat heartburn, was associated with improved clinical outcomes in COVID-19 patients.” The story goes on to make it clear that more research is needed before definitive conclusions are drawn.

• Here’s something that can be definitively said: It’s very important that people get flu shots this year. A nursing professor, writing for The Conversation, explains why. Key quote: “As a health care professional, I urge everyone to get the flu vaccine in September. Please do not wait for flu cases to start to peak. The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to reach peak effectiveness, so getting the vaccine in September will help provide the best protection as the flu increases in October and later in the season.”

• Also from The Conversation: A recent survey of essential workers in Massachusetts revealed that far more Black and Latino workers don’t feel safe on the job than white workers. Here is why—and why that’s important.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism nonprofit ProPublica doesn’t mince words regarding COVID-19 and Sin City: “Las Vegas casinos reopened June 4, and they have become a likely hotbed for the spread of the novel coronavirus, public health experts said. But if tourists return home and then test positive for COVID-19, the limitations of contact tracing in the midst of a pandemic make it unlikely such an outbreak would be identified.”

• CNBC looks at the status of that extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits that President Trump has promised. So far, 11 states have been approved for the money (California is not one of them)—but a whole lot of people are going to be left out regardless.

• Finally, Taiwan—a country which has done a much better job of managing the coronavirus than the United States has—recently hosted a 10,000-person arena concert. Time magazine explains how the experience was different, thanks to the specter of SARS-CoV-2.

That’s enough for the day. Count your blessings. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. If you have the means, please consider supporting quality independent local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

When the going gets tough, the tough get going—straight to the liquor store. And the not-so-tough are right behind them.

If there has been one consistent thing during this pandemic, it’s alcohol consumption. While curling up with a bottle of cabernet might not be the best coping mechanism, if you’re of drinking age, you’re free to self-medicate away.

But that has not been the case in South Africa for much of the pandemic: South Africa has twice banned booze, meaning all sales and consumption of alcohol were considered a crime. The first ban was put into place on March 27 and lifted on June 1. Without warning, a second complete prohibition was put in place on July 12, and lifted on Aug. 17.

Rightly or wrongly, those bans have had a devastating impact.

The idea was simple: If people don’t drink, people can’t get knee-walking, commode-hugging drunk, and that reduces the amount of alcohol-related injuries. No more drunk drivers. No more bar brawls. A reduction of domestic violence and child abuse. Who wouldn’t be on board with that?

Perhaps this was an easy decision for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, given the staggering number of coronavirus cases there, and the unhealthy relationship and history the country has with alcohol. For years, laborers were paid with leftover wine or any unsavory hooch laying around. Drinking your wages was an easy way into rampant alcoholism.

But was the cure worse than the disease? The impact of these extreme restrictions will be felt for years. More than 1 million jobs were affected, and the revenue loss is in the hundreds of millions. The economic partnership between South Africa and the European Union was fractured. More than 500 liquor stores were robbed, and the boom in illegal alcohol production spiraled out of control, with modern-day Al Capones seizing an opportunity to supply the thirsty masses. As the United States learned during our own decade-long Prohibition, where’s there a will, there’s a way.

Even with the ban lifted, restrictions remain. Alcohol can be consumed inside restaurants and bars, but only until 10 p.m. If the citizens of South Africa want to purchase libations to enjoy at home, they can do so—but liquor outlets can only be open Monday through Thursday, during daytime hours, and citizens are subject to a curfew.

Meanwhile, pineapple sales have gone through the roof. It’s an easy fruit to ferment and turn into alcohol in the privacy of one’s own bathroom. Home brewers are discovering all kinds of new ways to create their own happy hour.

But the police minister was having none of it. He enthusiastically and proudly promoted extreme methods of enforcement, proclaiming he’d destroy the infrastructure where alcohol is sold. He encouraged his police task force to use any measure of prosecution—including the beating to death of a man caught drinking alcohol in his own backyard.

The devastation doesn’t stop there. Mirroring the sentiments in this country, there is a fierce debate going on regarding the importance of lives versus livelihoods: Teetering on a catastrophic recession, with huge unemployment numbers, the South African wine industry has been on the verge of collapse. This breaks my heart.

Small, family-owned and family-operated wineries are facing the biggest risk of extinction. They are dependent on local consumption and tourism, both of which have been nonexistent. Many of them have limited access to exportation or distribution, and those that do are being impacted by trade agreements that require reciprocity.

What’s more is that a lot of these wineries are Black-owned. The idea that a Black person could own land, much less be a winemaker, was a concept that was unthinkable 30 years ago.

In 1997, Charles Back, of Fairview Winery, created the Fair Valley Workers Association. This was an amazing step toward equality: For the first time, Black workers had the opportunity to acquire land and make their own wines. In 1999, the country saw its first wine produced by a female Black winemaker, Carmen Stevens, who was just 27 years old at the time. Since then, more than 40 wineries have been established by Black entrepreneurs.

That’s South Africa for you. During the area’s 360 years of wine production, the country has proven time and again that you can knock her down, but she gets right back up. For every step back, South Africa becomes even more determined to take two steps forward. This is why I love this country and its wines so much: Not only do they have undeniable, unapologetic flavors and aromas that are unique and thought-provoking; the industry has always seized opportunities to modernize and advance. It is a powerful force and will not go quietly.

The good news is that we can help: The next time you’re out running your necessary and essential errands, pick up a bottle or two of South African wine. Explore different grapes and regions. See what chenin blanc from Paarl tastes like. Try a Rhone-inspired red blend from the Franschhoek area. Be daring, and open a bottle of the country’s signature wine from a grape called pinotage. Encourage your friends to find some South African wine, and have a virtual tasting.

While the United States doesn’t exactly have a healthy relationship with alcohol, either, at least this time when we drink South African wine, we can drink for a good cause. I think this calls for a lovely bottle of Graham Beck Brut Rose.

Cheers!

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Happy Monday all! Let’s get right to it:

• OK, so we’re in the midst of a crippling pandemic, and it’s hot as hell … and now we have to deal with possible rolling blackouts?! Yes, indeed we do—2020 keeps getting more bonkers by the day, doesn’t it?—and Gov. Gavin Newsom is less than pleased. He said today the power shortage was “unacceptable” and pledged an investigation into the matter. 

How hot has it been throughout California? Well, Death Valley may have reached the hottest temp recorded on Earth in 90 years yesterday.

The Trump administration’s efforts to hamper the U.S. Postal Service has drawn the attention of Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House back into session, and Senate Democrats are asking the Postal Service’s Board of Governors to reverse Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s recent efforts to slow down mail delivery—and remove DeJoy from the job if he doesn’t cooperate. Key quote, from The Washington Post: “In recent days, DeJoy’s agency changes have reduced mail deliveries and overtime hours, resulting in massive mail backlogs that have delayed critical communications and packages, including prescription drugs. The Postal Service also sought to eliminate hundreds of high-speed mail sorting machines this month while removing public-collection boxes in states including California, New York and Pennsylvania, sparking a broad outcry.”

• We keep hearing about potential COVID-19 “game-changers,” and so far, this terrible game has not changed much. Well, here’s the latest thing to keep your fingers crossed about: We mentioned hopes for rapid saliva COVID-19 tests in Friday’s Daily Digest. Well, on Saturday, the FDA granted emergency authorization to the SalivaDirect test, created by the Yale School of Public Health. According to CNN: “Researchers said the new test can produce results in less than three hours, and the accuracy is on par with results from traditional nasal swabbing. They said SalivaDirect tests could become publicly available in the coming weeks. Yale plans to publish its protocol as ‘open-source,’ meaning designated labs could follow the protocol to perform their own tests according to Yale’s instructions, the FDA said.”

• We also mentioned on Friday that the FDA had recently updated guidelines to say that people who have recovered coronavirus will likely have immunity for three months. Well, late Friday night, they sort of took that back, and chided the media for reporting what they’d said, because absolutely nothing makes sense anymore.

Counties are beginning to move on and off of the state’s COVID-19 watch list. Today, five were added; one was removed; and another—San Diego County—could be removed tomorrow. Counties removed from the watchlist can reopen more indoor businesses—like gyms and hair salons—as well as schools. (Riverside County, for the record, can’t be removed from the watch list, because our test-positivity rate remains too darned high.)

• However, Riverside County has a plan to “fix” that: It wants the state to raise the positivity-rate criteria! It’s part of a reopening plan the county has submitted to the state. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the county wants to open churches, offices, hair salons and indoor dining on Sept. 8; indoor malls, group meetings (!) and wedding receptions on Sept. 22; and gyms, movie theaters and bars on Oct. 6. Hmm.

• The New York Times examines hopes that we could achieve herd immunity with just 50 percent of the population having antibodies to the damned virus, via either recovering from COVID-19 or getting a vaccine. Key quote: “I’m quite prepared to believe that there are pockets in New York City and London which have substantial immunity,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “What happens this winter will reflect that. The question of what it means for the population as a whole, however, is much more fraught.”

• The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill brought students back to campus for classes a couple of weeks ago. Well, that didn’t work out so well: 135 students and staffers have tested positive over the last week, and the school has decided to cancel all in-person classes and shift to remote learning. Sigh.

Should the U.S. allow people to be deliberately given COVID-19 as part of the vaccine trials? Two scientists, writing for The Conversation, make the case that “human challenge trials” should be allowed for the greater good, because it would speed things up. Key quote: “Rapid development of an effective vaccine could save hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. At present, more than 5,000 people die of COVID-19 each day. At that rate, every month of delay in vaccine availability costs 150,000 lives.”

• Also from The Conversation: Some indigenous communities in Mexico have found ways to battle the coronavirus, despite poverty and a lack of access to health care. A professor of anthropology from Ohio State writes: “I find the Zapotec are surviving the pandemic by doing what they’ve always done when the Mexican government can’t, or won’t, help them: drawing on local Indigenous traditions of cooperation, self-reliance and isolation.

• A new study out of Stanford attempts to explain why some people get ill from SARS-CoV-2, and others don’t. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “Three key molecules appear to play a crucial role, new research revealed this week. These key indicators, all found in the bloodstreams of severely ill patients, can be characterized as specific cytokines, or hormone-like molecules produced by the immune cells in the body that can regulate immune response. When overproduced, cytokines accelerate inflammation and can induce severe results.”

This lede from The New York Times … just ugh: “The Trump administration has been using major hotel chains to detain children and families taken into custody at the border, creating a largely unregulated shadow system of detention and swift expulsions without the safeguards that are intended to protect the most vulnerable migrants.”

• Bloomberg reports that homeowners with Federal Housing Administration mortgages are being delinquent with payments at a rate not seen in at least four decades. “The share of late FHA loans rose to almost 16 percent in the second quarter, up from about 9.7 percent in the previous three months and the highest level in records dating back to 1979, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Monday. The delinquency rate for conventional loans, by comparison, was 6.7 percent.”

Do you have questions about voting—when the registration deadline is? Do you need a photo ID? NBC News answers each of these questions, state by state.

The cost of insulin is soaring … and that’s just fine with pharmaceutical companies. FairWarning, via NBC News, reports: “Spurred by stories that diabetics are spending thousands of dollars a year on insulin, or even dying trying to ration it, lawmakers in at least 36 states are trying to tackle the issue, according to a FairWarning review of state bills introduced in the past two years. But the lawmakers are finding that the drug industry is working full-time to weaken or kill insulin price caps.”

That’s enough news for the day. Hooray—we’re one day closer to the end of this mess, whatever that may mean. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you’re around others. If you value independent local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest