CVIndependent

Fri08072020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to play the exciting game that is most definitely NOT sweeping the nation: Six Degrees of Separation: Whackadoo Conspiracy Theory Edition!

However, Kevin Bacon was not available, so we will be seeing how many degrees of separation you—YES YOU!!!—are from the newest conspiracy star in all the pandemic-stricken land!

We’ll start off with Judy Mikovits, Ph.D. She’s the star of that new documentary you’ve likely seen some of your friends posting on social media, even though they really should know better. In an effort to be fair and open-minded, I actually tracked it down and watched it today. My Impression: The documentary is 1) well-crafted and slick, 2) undeniably interesting and 3) completely packed with easily refutable and deeply-harmful-if-believed nonsense! I’ll never get that almost-half-hour of my life back! Is it time for a cocktail yet?

First degree of separation: Judy Mikovits, before she became a celebrity on the anti-vaccination circuit, worked at the Whittemore Peterson Institute, a nonprofit based in Reno, Nev., that does research into myalgic encephalomyelitis (aka chronic fatigue syndrome) and other neuroimmune diseases. I won’t go into all the details of Mikovits’ work there, other than to say that 1) one of the studies she published while there wound up being so shoddy that the digest which published it had to later retract it, and 2) she was arrested and accused of stealing materials from the lab after she was fired by the institute. What fun! Anyhow, one the founders of the Whittemore Peterson Institute is Harvey Whittemore, a Reno attorney who was once one of the most powerful lobbyists in the state of Nevada. (Then he was convicted of three felonies and sent to prison for a couple of years for violating campaign-contribution laws. Oops!)

Second degree of separation: Harvey Whittemore has five kids, one of whom is DJ Whittemore, a perfectly nice guy who is a collegiate baseball coach. He graduated from Earl Wooster High School in 1993.

Third degree of separation: Jimmy Boegle, the editor and publisher of the Coachella Valley Independent, and the humble scribe of this Daily Digest, is also a member of the Earl Wooster High School class of 1993. What a small and sometimes horrifying world!

Fourth degree of separation: YOU are reading this Daily Digest, written by Jimmy Boegle.

Congratulations! You are a mere four degrees of separation from Judy Mikovits! I am so very sorry about that!

Today’s links:

• The big state news of the day: Gov. Newsom offered more information on which businesses can begin to reopen as early tomorrow. He was actually rather light on the specifics, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• The other big state news: As expected, the state is facing a massive budget deficit—far bigger than anything the state faced during the great recession. That means some deep cuts are coming.

• The big national news: The Trump administration has decided not to follow the reopening guidelines created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because, you know who needs science and knowledge and experts and stuff?

• The other big national news: The Justice Department is dropping the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. This line, from The New York Times, earns the Understatement of the Day Award: “The decision for the government to throw out a case after a defendant had already pleaded guilty was … highly unusual.

• I, per usual, took part in the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast today. Hear what the knowledgeable Dr. Laura Rush has to say about the coronavirus in the Coachella Valley.

One of the president’s personal valets has tested positive for the virus. The president says he has tested negative, however, and will continue to get tested daily.

More than 12,000 Catholic churches (out of 17,000) in the U.S. received federal Paycheck Protection Plan loans that were supposedly meant for small businesses. Wait, what?!

• Also from the “Wait, what?!” files: Frontier Airlines is making people pay extra to be socially distanced.

• The California Restaurant Association has sent to Gov. Newsom a proposed plan on how to reopen the state’s restaurants. Get more details, via The Associated Press, here.

A group of hair salons is getting ready to sue Gov. Newsom over the fact that they have not been allowed to reopen yet. (Search for hair salon after clicking the link.)

• Finally, some good news: While nothing is sure yet, there’s increasing evidence that almost all people who recover from COVID-19 indeed have antibodies—and that MIGHT mean they have at least temporary immunity.

• Oh, and there’s increasing evidence blood thinners may help some people who get critically sick from COVID-19.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 96: Some Southern California churches are starting to have in-person services, the law (and possible spread of the virus) be damned.

Coronavirus survivors will be disqualified from joining the military. Yes, really.

The DMV is opening 25 offices—including the one in Palm Desert—for in-person service tomorrow. However, you’ll need an appointment.

• Could lasers soon be used to test for COVID-19—and other diseases, too? The Conversation breaks down how that is a possibility.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Don’t spread easily disproven conspiracy theories. Buy our amazing Coloring Book. Chip in a few bucks, if you can afford to do so, to help us continue doing what we’re doing. Back tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

Gov. Gavin Newsom last week announced that eligible seniors throughout California could immediately get three free restaurant meals per day delivered to their door.

Yet a week later, not a single meal has been delivered, and tens of thousands of Californians who have tried to sign up have been left disappointed, confused and maybe even hungry.

During his press conference last Friday, Newsom said counties and cities were ready—but in reality, most were caught off-guard: Most didn’t know that such a program was under consideration. Now they are scrambling to identify restaurants and eligible seniors before federal funding runs out on May 10.

It’s the latest example of how Newsom has announced an ambitious coronavirus response plan before details were hammered out—and in this case, even before the agencies recruited to carry it out were notified.

Under the governor’s plan, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse 75 percent of the cost of the meals, which would cost up to $66 per person for three meals per day. The state will cover another 18.75 percent. That leaves about six cents out of every dollar to be paid by cities and counties. 

Of California’s 5.7 million seniors, about 2.4 million might qualify for the program, according to UCLA’s California Health Interview Survey. If half of them enrolled, the total federal, state and local costs could reach more than $2 billion per month.

To be eligible for the free meals, seniors 65 and older have to meet certain income qualifications. People between 60 and 65 also qualify if they are at high risk or provide proof they were exposed.

Cities contacted by CalMatters, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, declined to say when they will be able to start the deliveries to seniors.


Cash-Strapped Cities and Counties

In cash-strapped cities and counties, officials said they are reluctant to sign up without knowing how soon they’ll be reimbursed, and whether funding will last past May 10.

Mariposa County Human Services Department Director Chevon Kothari learned about the program for the first time while watching Newsom’s press conference a week ago. Now her county, on track to burn through 70 percent of budget reserves by July with hotel and sales tax revenue from Yosemite Valley ground to a halt, is leaning against offering the meals to seniors. At least two other rural counties are in the same situation, Kothari said.

“This may be a really good thing for communities who can afford to front the costs and risk not getting that reimbursement, but for communities who don’t have the wiggle room to part with those funds, it could be too much risk,” said Kothari. She added that her agency is meeting the food needs of seniors in other ways.

If a city or county has, for instance, 10,000 seniors participating, the local government’s portion of the cost of the meals would exceed $1.2 million per month.

Los Angeles County has about 712,000 seniors who may be eligible for the free meals—so its portion could be $88 million per month. For the state and federal government, that cost could reach $1.3 billion per month.

Some representatives of cities and counties across the state, who learned about the program at the same time as their residents, expressed frustration that Newsom saddled local governments with immediately delivering on his big promises to hungry seniors, but provided little guidance.

But they were hesitant to publicly criticize the governor in light of their cries for help from the state to address looming budget deficits driven by the epidemic that have already led to employee furloughs.

One representative from a statewide association of local agencies called this Newsom’s “modus operandi” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are these great ideas about starting different initiatives, whether it be this program or others, and it seems like the governor always announced it before it probably should be talked about or before the details are worked out,” said the representative, who asked not to be identified, because the organization wanted to stay in the administration’s good graces.


‘Absolutely a Good Thing’

However, state and county leaders commended Newsom for paying attention to the need for food assistance among vulnerable seniors who fall through the cracks of other programs.

“It’s absolutely a good thing,” said Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association. “We expect to engage post haste with the administration about the specifics for launching.”

During his Facebook Live announcement, Newsom said “this program goes into effect immediately,” and he urged seniors to call 211 to sign up.

And they took him up on it. Operators at Interface Children and Family Services, which fields 211 calls from 40 counties that cover almost half of Californians, said more than 7,000 people called right after Newsom’s announcement—a spike from the weekly average of 10,000 calls.

“We were telling them we didn’t have further information,” said Kelly Brown, director of the call center. “That’s what we’re continuing to do now.”


A Win-Win-Win, Newsom Says

Here’s how the meal program is supposed to work:

Local governments pay restaurants up to $66 to cook and deliver three nutritious meals per day to eligible seniors. Those seniors must live alone or with another qualifying senior. They can’t already receive other federal-nutrition programs like food stamps or Meals on Wheels, and they must earn less than $74,940 for a household of one, or $101,460 for a household of two.

“Even if it’s hundreds of thousands that take advantage of this, just in weeks, you’ll see millions and millions of meals part of this program,” Newsom said.

Newsom touted it as a win-win-win, sending much-needed dollars to struggling restaurants, filling an urgent need to feed people scared to leave their homes, and generating tax revenue for cities.

Newsom said he expected that the sales tax that the cities will collect from the meals will “should more than offset the local costs.” 

Restaurants are eager to jump on board, said Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association.

“As soon as the governor announced this creative new program, we received a flood of emails and phone calls from restaurateurs wanting to take part,” Condie said.

Several large cities expressed enthusiasm. San Francisco has already contracted with a food-truck network to cook 10,000 meals for people under medical quarantine and has begun to recruit more restaurants, said a spokeswoman. The Los Angeles County Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services said it is “ramping up quickly.”

Locally, the Riverside County on Aging has launched an interest form for both interested restaurants and seniors via its website.


Funding Questions Could Be Deal-Breaker

Newsom called the program “a real opportunity for rural California as well.”

But small and rural counties facing precipitous drops in revenue may find it difficult to muster even the 6 percent—let alone fronting 100 percent and waiting to be reimbursed, said Paul Smith, vice president of governmental affairs for Rural County Representatives of California.

After several recent disasters in Mariposa, Kothari said she’s learned that FEMA often takes 12 to 24 months to reimburse, if at all.

“If you don’t document (spending) just in the way they (FEMA) need it documented … you could risk not getting that back,” Kothari said. That’s not a risk many localities can take, she said, especially given the administrative burden for counties with small staff and vulnerable residents so spread out that they might live an hour away from the nearest restaurant.

Asked about the timeline for reimbursement and the local costs, Newsom acknowledged that the program could be “anxiety-inducing” for cities and counties. But, he said, as “a former mayor, it would have been music to my ears to hear a program costing about 6 cents” for every dollar.

Expedited reimbursement for half of the federal funding may be available upfront for localities that apply for it, said Governor’s Office of Emergency Services spokesman Brian Ferguson.

“If we can put food in the belly of even one vulnerable person, it’s something worth doing,” Ferguson said. 

Another red flag for some localities: the meal program funding will expire soon, unless FEMA grants an extension.

According to a state document for local officials, the funding runs out on May 10, “unless the public health need ends sooner or an extension is granted by FEMA. … While it is anticipated that, upon successful program execution, the State will request an extension, there is no guarantee it will be granted.”

Newsom did not respond to a CalMatters’ question at his Wednesday press conference about the May 10 deadline.

“By the time I get this set up and start to provide services and socialize it with my community … is the program going to come to an end?” Kothari asked.

Jackie Botts is a reporter with CalMatters. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

Published in Local Issues

If you’re one of those people who gets upset when you can’t read a newspaper article due to a paywall … it’s time we had a chat.

First off, you should know that it’s not your fault you feel this way. When the big daily newspaper companies went online two decades ago, the decision-makers at those newspapers decided to give everything away for free. Why, you ask, would they make people pay for news delivered in physical form, yet give it away online? I don’t know. I do know that many of those big newspaper execs are what people call “morons,” seeing as they chose to react to things like Craigslist not by innovating, but instead by making staffing cuts—resulting in a weaker product—to protect what was often a 30-40 percent profit margin at their companies.

This caused a death spiral at most daily newspapers around the country: They kept cutting and cutting and cutting, and not innovating, until things got dire. Then one day, they decided to start charging for that online news they’d been giving away for more than a decade.

Say it along with me: Morons!

In the alternative-newspaper world, we were a little smarter. Yeah, we gave away our content online for free, too—but that made a little more sense, because we’d been giving away the physical product for free, too. While our industry also got our ass kicked by Craigslist and online personals services, and that killed off some of the slower-acting bigger-city newspapers, a lot of people also innovated: We started doing profitable events that our readers liked, for example. We were more innovative online, too, making better-looking websites and creating e-Editions—and generally being more fun than other newspapers.

Until about a month ago, many alternative newspapers—especially in smaller and medium-sized markets—were doing OK. We were doing fun, engaging and important coverage of our communities; attracting advertising from restaurants, theaters and events; and doing events of our own. That kept the lights on, the servers serving, and the presses running—meaning we could continue to offer all that fun, engaging and important coverage to our readers for free.

Then … well, thanks to COVID-19, all the restaurants were closed (except, thank goodness, for takeout). So were the theaters. And the events were all cancelled. This is a problem.

Anyway, the idiocy of the daily newspaper companies, and the sorta-smarts of the alternative-newspaper companies, have long masked one important fact: Doing news is not cheap.

Take us at the Independent, for example. Our staff writer gets paid. Our 10-15 regular freelancers are paid. We have server fees and bookkeeper fees and cell-phone charges and monthly subscription fees for the computer software we use. Each “normal” pre-pandemic print edition of the Independent cost, conservatively, $3,000 to $4,000 to lay out, print and distribute. Heck, we pay about $2,000 a year just for libel insurance—needed to protect us in case someone with deeper pockets than us decides he or she doesn’t like a story we did.

I could go on and on … but you get the point: If you are able, you need to support the newspapers from which you get your information. (Yes, even The Desert Sun.) This stuff takes time, and talent, and money to produce.

So … the next time you can’t read a newspaper article due to a paywall, don’t snivel; subscribe.

As for the Independent, never fear: As long as I am around, we will never have a paywall, because I understand that some of our readers—especially right now—can’t afford to pay for the news … and I am proud of the work we’re doing, and I want everyone to have access to it. I also trust that our readers who can afford to send us a few bucks will do so, because they’re smart and value what we do.

But, seriously: Stop complaining about paywalls, OK?

Tomorrow, we’ll have some news about some exciting things going on with the Independent, despite all the darkness. In the meantime, keep reading. Oh, and if you want/need a copy of our April print edition, go here for details.

And now, the news.

• Our very own V.J. Hume did an amazing piece on how our neighbors who are Alcoholics Anonymous members are dealing with this new temporary reality. It’s a fascinating read.

• Fingers crossed: Faster, easier COVID-19 testing is on its way … to some places at least.

• USA Today brings us this interesting piece on what scientists are learning from COVID-19 mutations. Buried within the piece is more encouraging news about how California’s doing at #flatteningthecurve.

• Coming next weekend, some big-name drag performers are putting on a really big online show.

• The president and CEO of the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce has put together a fundraiser to send local health-care workers food.

• Missing Las Vegas? Here’s info on a virtual tour of the Neon Museum to temporarily satisfy your thirst for the bright lights.

• The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Center and Mayor Geoff Kors are holding a webinar at 1 p.m. tomorrow (Monday) on resources for businesses affected by this mess.

• From our partners at CalMatters: The governor thinks the state will have enough ventilators to get through the pandemic—as long as citizens keep doing our part.

• Palm Desert’s CREATE Center for the Arts has put its 3-D printers to use, making personal protective equipment for local medical professionals.

• A bunch of local orgs have created an emergency fund for families in need.

• Could the coronavirus bring back the drive-in movie theater?

• The California Restaurant Association is afraid that the pandemic will shutter 30,000 California restaurants.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Make sure (safely) that your neighbors are OK. Support local journalism. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Growing tension between California and the federal government over immigration has business owners in the crosshairs—worried about the potential effect on their enterprises, and unsure which laws they should follow.

Those in immigrant-dependent industries, such as hospitality and agriculture, say conflicting messages from the state, with its new laws to protect undocumented residents, and the federal government, which is cracking down on people in the U.S. illegally, put them in an especially tough spot.

“It’s a bit scary to be caught in the middle of a stand-off between the feds and local law enforcement,” said Sharokina Shams, spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association.

On Jan. 2, the interim director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said California should “hold on tight,” because he planned to send in a flood of agents and conduct more actions to counter the state’s new “sanctuary” law. That law, which took effect Jan. 1, limits local and state law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with federal authorities.

ICE also recently raided nearly 100 7-Eleven franchises across the country and arrested 21 people. If such raids happened in California, the store owners would be required under a separate law to request warrants and subpoenas.

That law, called the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, also went into effect Jan. 1. It requires that employers admit immigration officials to a worksite only if the agents have a warrant; keep workers’ confidential information private in the absence of a subpoena; and notify their workers before a federal audit of employee records takes place.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on Jan. 18 that his office would go after employers who share information about workers in contradiction of the new law. Employers could face prosecution, including fines of up to $10,000.

“We want to protect people’s rights to privacy and protect their ability to go about their business, going to work and feeding their kids,” said Becerra, an appointee (who replaced Kamala Harris when she was elected to the U.S. Senate) running for election to the office this year.

He said his announcement was prompted by rumors in Northern California that immigration agents intend to conduct workplace raids.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement says employers in California are expected to comply with federal regulations, as they have in the past, when asked to open their records for review.

The Immigrant Worker Protection Act “reflects yet another effort by the State of California to interfere with federal immigration enforcement authorities,” said Lori Haley, spokeswoman for ICE, via email. “Federal law established by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of all individuals they hire.”

Such audits protect jobs for citizens and others who are in the country legally and help battle worker exploitation, child labor and other illegal practices, Haley said.

California business owners shouldn’t be put at odds with the federal government, said GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen, who represents Huntington Beach.

“Business owners should always feel safe to cooperate with federal authorities without fear of persecution by California’s rogue attorney general,” said Allen, who is running for governor. “Business owners should never be used as pawns in the California Democrats’ ongoing war with the White House.”

He called the new law unconstitutional and likened Becerra’s threat to the Mafia silencing witnesses. The Constitution has “laid out clearly that immigration is federal, not state jurisdiction,” Allen said. “Federal law trumps state law, and Xavier Becerra knows this.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation, which represents farmers, has been reaching out to its 27,000 members to educate them about the new employer law. But officials there say they may not be able to reach everyone and worry that some may get caught unaware.

“It was a little disconcerting that the attorney general felt compelled to make a public statement to the effect that ‘we are going to fine anybody that we think might have violated the law at the max penalty’ when people make mistakes,” said Bryan Little, director of employment policy for the federation. “It would have been more helpful for the attorney general to be more informative.”

Typically, Little said, when immigration authorities decide to do an employment inspection, an employer receives a letter stating that the agency wants to audit its records, how those records should be provided and whether agents plan to show up at the worksite. That’s different from an enforcement action, when agents show up without warning to look for someone specific or to question all employees about their legal status—the kind of operation that does not happen very often.

Regardless, said Little, California law adds a layer of complications.

“Our business owners, operators and employers are caught in the middle” between ICE’s right to enforce federal law and the state’s limited-cooperation directive, he said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Restaurateur Patricia Perez, co-owner of Pho Show restaurants in Culver City and Redondo Beach, feels the pressure.

“Being in the hospitality industry, the whole social and political climate is worrisome,” she said. “Even before this, there is a lot to comply with. I don’t know what we would do.”

“The small business owner is the loser in this,” said Perez, who is also on the board of the Los Angeles Chapter of the California Restaurant Association.

Keeping up with new laws and regulations is hard enough, said Perez. Anytime a government agency shows up at a business for audits or information, employers and workers are nervous or even intimidated, and the new employment law doesn’t help, she said.

“It’s not an issue of transparency. Once a government agency asks for anything, it’s a feeling of not having a choice,” she said. “Business owners don’t always know their rights or what to do except to comply.”

California could be contradicting itself with the new employer law, according to Jonathan Turley, professor of public-interest law at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The state weighed in on a 2012 case involving an Arizona law that required police to cooperate with immigration agents, Turley noted in a review of California’s new employer law. Kamala Harris, who was then California’s attorney general, signed a brief arguing that Arizona’s law improperly interfered with federal jurisdiction. Today, California is putting business owners in the direct path of the federal government, Turley argues, and its law could be challenged based on its own position that states should not impede federal authority.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues