CVIndependent

Wed11252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Happy Monday, everyone. I hope everyone out there had a fantastic weekend, despite the troubling nature of these times.

While my weekend had some lovely moments—a socially distanced patio dinner with friends being the highlight—I also spent a fair amount of time counting all of your votes in the first round of our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll. Well, all of that counting is complete, and I am happy to announce this year’s slate of fantastic finalists in 126 categories!

With that, voting is now under way in our final round of voting, which is taking place here through Oct. 26. As I’ve mentioned in this space before: We ask each reader to vote once, and only once, in each round. Whereas the goals of other “Best Of” polls in this town are to get their publications as much web traffic as possible from readers visiting their websites repeatedly to vote, our goal is to come up with the best slate of finalists and winners. So, please vote—but only once. And we’ll be watching IP addresses and verifying email addresses to cut down on the shenanigans.

Thanks to everyone who voted in the first round, and thanks in advance to all of you for voting in this final around. Oh, and congrats to all of our finalists; thanks for helping to make the Coachella Valley the amazing place that it is!

Today’s news:

• Unless you’ve been hiding in some sort of bunker for the last 24 hours, you’ve likely heard about the complete bombshell The New York Times dropped yesterday regarding Donald Trump’s taxes. The newspaper seems to have gotten Trump’s tax records—documents he’s long fought to kept out of the public’s eye—and they show a history of massive losses, suspect deductions and very little actual taxes paid. Most alarmingly, however, they show that the president has $421 million in debt coming due soon—which, as the speaker of the House pointed out today, raises security questions. It’s not hyperbole to say that this is one of the most important stories of the year. It’s also true that the revelations are unlikely to sway Trump devotees, given that previous unsavory revelations have failed to do so.

A series of wildfires in Sonoma and Napa counties have resulted in “significant loss,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Nearly 50,000 people face evacuations; the situation in wine country is beyond heartbreaking.

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, was taken into custody yesterday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after he apparently threatened to kill himself. Parscale was fired as campaign manager in July but still worked for the campaign. According to The Washington Post: “The police were called by Parscale’s wife, Candice Parscale, who told the officers upon their arrival that ‘her husband was armed, had access to multiple firearms inside the residence and was threatening to harm himself.’ Parscale was in the house with 10 guns and was inebriated when the police arrived, according to a police report released Monday. His wife had escaped the house after he cocked a gun and threatened suicide, the report said. Her arms were bruised, and she told officers that her husband had hit her days earlier, according to the police report.”

• Efforts by Trump campaign donor and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to “reform” the U.S. Postal Service by cutting costs and severely slowing mail delivery were dealt a blow by a federal judge today. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The U.S. Postal Service must prioritize election mail and immediately reverse changes that resulted in widespread delays in California and several other states, a federal judge ruled Monday. … The judge’s ruling came as part of a lawsuit by attorneys general for the District of Columbia and six states, including California, that accused the Trump administration of undermining the Postal Service by decommissioning high-speed mail-sorting machines, curtailing overtime and mandating that trucks run on time, which led to backlogs because mail was left behind.”

• Related is this scoop from Time magazine: “For three weeks in August, as election officials across the country were preparing to send out mail-in ballots to tens of millions of voters, the U.S. Postal Service stopped fully updating a national change of address system that most states use to keep their voter rolls current, according to multiple officials who use the system.” At least 1.8 million addresses (!) are effected.

• Oh, and then there’s this from NBC News: It turns out the USPS isn’t really keeping track of mail theft. “The Postal Service’s law enforcement arm acknowledged the shortcoming after NBC News, prompted by anecdotal accounts of an uptick in mail theft around the country, sought and received mail theft figures through a Freedom of Information Act request.

• Even though a federal judge has ordered the U.S. Census count to continue through Oct. 31, the bureau today said that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “has announced a target date of October 5, 2020 to conclude 2020 Census self-response and field data collection operations.” Hmm.

Politico over the weekend dropped a story with this frightening lede: “The (Health and Human Services) department is moving quickly on a highly unusual advertising campaign to ‘defeat despair’ about the coronavirus, a $300 million-plus effort that was shaped by a political appointee close to President Donald Trump and executed in part by close allies of the official, using taxpayer funds.” In journalism school, we were taught that this is called “propaganda.”

• Now let’s compare that story with this piece from CNBC: “The United States is ‘not in a good place’ as colder months loom and the number of newly reported coronavirus cases continues to swell beyond 40,000 people every day, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.

Channel 4 News, out of the United Kingdom, reported today that it had obtained a “vast cache” of data used by Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. What did that cache reveal? “It reveals that 3.5 million Black Americans were categorised by Donald Trump’s campaign as ‘Deterrence’—voters they wanted to stay home on election day. Tonight, civil rights campaigners said the evidence amounted to a new form of voter ‘suppression’ and called on Facebook to disclose ads and targeting information that has never been made public.”

According to NBC News: “A major hospital chain has been hit by what appears to be one of the largest medical cyberattacks in United States history. Computer systems for Universal Health Services, which has more than 400 locations, primarily in the U.S., began to fail over the weekend, and some hospitals have had to resort to filing patient information with pen and paper, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.” Eek! Locally, according to the UHS website, the company operates Michael’s House in Palm Springs.

The San Francisco Chronicle today became the latest newspaper to examine the troubling fact that a lot of people who have “recovered” from COVID-19 have not actually fully recovered. Key quote: “The coronavirus can infiltrate and injure multiple organs. Studies have reported lasting damage to the lungs and heart. People have suffered strokes due to coronavirus-related clotting issues. The virus can cause skin rashes and gastrointestinal problems. Some people lose their sense of smell and taste for weeks or even months.”

A political science professor, writing for The Conversation, explains a study he did that proves something fairly self-evident: “Politicians deepen existing divides when they use inflammatory language, such as hate speech, and this makes their societies more likely to experience political violence and terrorism. That’s the conclusion from a study I recently did on the connection between political rhetoric and actual violence.” Yes, Trump’s speeches are examined, as are those by other world leaders.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times issued an unprecedented and expansive self-examination of and apology for decades of systemic racism at the newspaper. It’s worth a read.

Stay safe, everyone. Please consider helping us continue producing local journalism—made available for free to everyone—by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you can. The Daily Digest will return Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

Now that Labor Day Weekend is in the figurative rearview mirror, a lot of people are starting to look toward the holidays—and with that, people will come to the realization that, as with everything else since February, things will be quite different this year.

My husband I have already started talking about our holiday plans. Our family gatherings are pretty small; most of our closest relatives have passed away, and the ones who are left are scattered across the country—except for my mom, and Garrett’s dad and stepmom, all of whom live in Reno. In recent years, we’ve spent Christmas with the three of them, either here or in Reno.

We’ve decided that we’ll likely do the same this year. We’ll probably all get COVID-19 tests before we get together to minimize the risk. There are only five of us, so it seems doable, if still perhaps a little scary.

Last year, the parents visited us in Palm Springs, and we all went to a large, chosen-family dinner on Christmas day at a friend’s house. There were 30 or so people there, and it was absolutely amazing. Such large family gatherings would be incredibly irresponsible this year—at least as things stand now.

Now, it is possible that there could be some sort of advancement between now and then; Christmas is still 3 1/2 months away, after all, and the arrival of inexpensive, speedy, no-lab-needed COVID-19 tests could make larger gatherings more feasible. Maybe.

Then again, there’s also talk of a fall-and-winter combination COVID and influenza surge.

Damn it, 2020.

Before we get to today’s news, two pleas. First: If you have the means, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep producing quality local journalism; click here to do so. Second: If you haven’t yet voted in the first round of the Independent’s Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, please do so by clicking here. Thanks!

Today’s news:

• You’ve probably heard this already, but just in case you haven’t, brace yourself for epic stupidity: The El Dorado Fire, which has burned 7,000 acres so far near Yucaipa and is responsible for the choking smoke in the valley today, was started by morons using a pyrotechnic device at a gender-reveal party.

• Related: Due to the dry, convection-oven-like conditions ’round these parts, the U.S. Forest Service is closing access to Southern California’s national forests, because you never know when cretins may show up, even though it’s 110 degrees and as dry as a popcorn fart, TO SET OFF INCENDIARY DEVICES TO ANNOUNCE THE GENITALIA OF A YET-TO-BE-BORN CHILD. Arrrgh!

• OK, it’s time for a drink! I’ve been enjoying the Boulevardier recently. Unfamiliar? It’s like a Negroni, but with whiskey instead of gin. Here’s a recipe. They’re quite lovely, even if the trademark bitterness from the Campari takes some getting used to. From the Independent archives: Cocktail scribe Kevin Carlow suggests adding walnut to things to make the drink even more festive—far more festive and infinitely less dangerous than a fire-tinged gender-reveal party!

• OK, whew. Now that we’ve calmed down a bit, let’s get back to the fire-related news: More than 2 million acres have burned this year so far in Californiaand that’s a new record.

• Related: The Los Angeles Times looks at the massive toll the August Dome Fire took on the Joshua tree forest. Key quote: “Preserve botanist Drew Kaiser estimated that about a quarter of the sprawling Cima Dome Joshua tree forest—which extends beyond the preserve boundaries north of Interstate 15—was destroyed. But that quarter is a place that some desert lovers call one of their favorite spots on the planet.

The Washington Post over the weekend broke this story: “Louis DeJoy’s prolific campaign fundraising, which helped position him as a top Republican power broker in North Carolina and ultimately as head of the U.S. Postal Service, was bolstered for more than a decade by a practice that left many employees feeling pressured to make political contributions to GOP candidates—money DeJoy later reimbursed through bonuses, former employees say.” That, of course, is quite illegal.

• Some sort-of good news: Some Californians on unemployment will soon be seeing an extra $900 show up, following President Trump’s executive order.

• Here’s some not-so-good and certainly more bonkers news related to Trump: In response to a tweet claiming California has implemented the use of the 1619 Project in schools (which hasn’t happened), the president threatened to withhold funding from schools that do so. What’s the 1619 Project? It “teaches American history beginning with the arrival of slaves to Virginia in the year 1619 and focuses on the contributions of Black Americans.” Sigh.

• Back to some good news: The Wall Street Journal looks at the fantastic success of an initiative to recruit poll workers, thanks to large companies giving employees paid time off to volunteer. Key quote: “Power the Polls, an initiative to recruit low-risk poll workers to staff in-person voting locations on Election Day and during early voting in October, has joined with more than 70 companies, including Starbucks Corp. and Patagonia, to connect people who want to volunteer during the election with counties that offer training. Last week the Civic Alliance, the group behind the campaign, said it surpassed its goal of recruiting 250,000 volunteer poll workers through its corporate partnerships and now has more than 350,000 people signed on to help with the election.”

A federal judge will hear arguments regarding the Trump administration’s plans to end U.S. Census work early. Key quote, from the San Francisco Chronicle: “(U.S. District Judge Lucy) Koh will hear arguments Sept. 17 on requests by the plaintiffs for an injunction that would reverse the one-month speedup. They sought an immediate restraining order after the Justice Department told Koh in a court filing that the Census Bureau ‘has already begun taking steps to conclude field operations,’ which ‘are scheduled to be wound down throughout September by geographic regions based on response rates within those regions.’”

• OK, I am just going to leave this New York Times headline right here, shake my head and walk away: “Trump Emerges as Inspiration for Germany’s Far Right: Among German conspiracy theorists, ultranationalists and neo-Nazis, the American president is surfacing as a rallying cry, or even as a potential ‘liberator.’

• While movie theaters aren’t yet open here, they’re open in about two-thirds of the country—and this weekend, Tenet became the first major release since … well, you know, to open only in theaters. The New York Times looks at how the film did at the box office—and what that means for other upcoming releases.

• Finally, as Labor Day 2020 comes to an end: A professor, writing for The Conversation, looks at the philosophy of Simone Weil, who helped change the way people look at work in the early 20th century. Key quote: “Work must be seen in its larger context, for if it isn’t, laborers may soon feel like cogs in a machine, winding a nut onto a bolt or moving papers from an inbox to an outbox. To do work well, people need to understand the context of work and how it makes a difference in the lives of others.

Be safe. Be kind. Wear a mask around others. Wash your hands. Thanks for reading; the Daily Digest will be back Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

There are four plausible interpretations of Donald Trump’s suggestion that we delay the November election over the supposed threat of mail-in voting fraud.

1. He’s an idiot who impulsively farts out whatever thought enters his brain.

2. He was trolling.

3. He was trying to distract from the abysmal economic data that had just been released.

4. He wants to delegitimize an election he’s likely to lose.

These are nonexclusive, of course, and each probably has some degree of merit. But the last is by far the most important—and the most dangerous. Trump is hardly a Machiavellian tactician, but if the stars align just right, such a pernicious effort could not just cause a Bush-Gore redux; it could create a constitutional crisis unlike anything the country has seen since 1876.

Indeed, Trump’s attacks on the election’s integrity, combined with the moral rot that has seized his party, could even present a path for the president to cling to power despite being defeated in November.

Certainly, this isn’t the most likely scenario—but it’s not impossible, either. The stage is being set, and if you put it past Trump and his cronies to try, you haven’t been paying attention.

Let’s begin with the basics: As much as Trump pretends otherwise, voting by mail is the same as absentee voting. And as much as Trump bellows, voting fraud is exceedingly rare; mail-voting fraud is rarer; and conducting a national mail-voting fraud scheme is basically impossible. Five states already use the mail as their primary voting method; in 2018, nearly a quarter of all ballots were cast by mail.

Voting by mail only became controversial during the pandemic, as voting-rights advocates sought its expansion as an alternative to forcing people to stand in long, COVID-friendly lines on Election Day. (See Wisconsin, 2020.) But Republicans have countered that more absentee voting will hurt their chances by, well, increasing turnout, which, as Georgia’s House speaker explained, “will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives.” (Seriously.)

There’s no evidence this assumption is correct, by the way, but it’s become an article of faith nonetheless. And the more Trump complains about against voting by mail, the more it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. A poll last week from Emerson College showed that, among those who plan to vote in person, Trump is winning 65-32. Among those who plan to vote by mail, however, Joe Biden is up 76-20.

There’s another, more insidious self-fulfilling prophecy at work, too. While Trump insists that voting by mail will be disastrous, his postmaster general is making sure that happens. “Cost-saving” measures initiated by Louis DeJoy, the Trump megadonor who now leads the U.S. Postal Service, have led to a massive slowdown in mail delivery that could have huge ramifications for the election.

In 34 states—including most swing states—ballots not received by Election Day are discarded. In the other 16, ballots postmarked on or before Election Day can be received later, though many states leave little room for error. Texas, for instance, requires ballots to come in by 5 p.m. the day after the election. So if the mail gets backed up in early November, hundreds of thousands or even millions of voters could have their ballots invalidated, tipping crucial states into Trump’s column.

Of course, Biden’s camp would sue, and it’s fairly likely that a federal court would order the ballots counted.

Here’s another wrinkle: Because many states are unaccustomed to processing a deluge of mail-in ballots quickly, if there’s anything short of a blowout, we’ll probably go to bed on Nov. 3 without knowing who won. Trump might look like he’s pulled off another shocking upset — until the count of absentee ballots pushes Biden over the top days or even a week or two later.

What follows would make the Brooks Brothers riot of 2000 look like a day at the beach. 

Trump, his supporters and media allies would claim fraud. He’d sue to get mail-in ballots thrown out and block states from certifying electors. William Barr’s Department of Justice could announce a transparently bogus “investigation” intended to support the boss’ baseless allegations. Protests and counterprotests would rage, giving Trump an excuse to deploy his paramilitary goons.

By law, Congress has to accept electors properly certified by states before the so-called safe harbor date in mid-December, though (theoretically) not necessarily after. But states can’t certify their electors so long as legal battles persist. Indeed, the Supreme Court blocked Florida’s manual recount in 2000 by (dubiously) arguing that it would extend beyond the safe-harbor date and thus possibly disenfranchise all Florida voters.

Would an even more-Republican Supreme Court foreclose Trump’s challenges this year on those same grounds? Put another way: Will the fate of the republic hinge on a sickly 87-year-old surviving until January, and John Roberts not wanting an act of antidemocratic partisanship to be the first line of his obituary?

Meanwhile, at Trump’s urging, Republican legislators in battlegrounds Biden won—say, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—would likely allege fraud in their states as well, and submit dueling slates of Trump electors to Congress.

The law tasks Congress with adjudicating Electoral College disputes on Jan. 6, but it’s ambiguous on what happens if the House and Senate disagree. If some states’ electors haven’t been certified, and no candidate garners a majority, the House of Representatives decides the next president, with each state’s delegation getting one vote—California the same as Wyoming—an arrangement that favors Trump.

Should Biden win by seven or eight points, the hand-wringing over Trump defying the voters will probably come to naught. But if Trump refuses to concede or turn over power, and if his supporters conclude that his loss was fraudulent, we’ll find ourselves in menacingly uncharted waters. If Trump’s presidency has shown nothing else, it’s that our institutions are ill-equipped to beat back even clumsy authoritarianism. 

And whatever the result, the United States will be a weaker nation when it’s over. 

Get Informed Dissent delivered straight to your inbox by subscribing at billman.substack.com.

Published in National/International