CVIndependent

Tue12012020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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

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

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

So, on with the gusher of news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of the Forest Service as well as several agricultural and food-related research agencies, recently told its staffers to avoid using the term “climate change.” The business-as-usual term “weather extremes” was recommended instead.

While dropping the word “climate” may seem like a defeat for those of us who remain convinced that human influences are harming the global environment, this federal directive made in the spirit of changing the narrative might be good advice. Could it be that the term itself has failed us?

Suppose, for a moment, you are in a restaurant, and someone yells, “Help, she’s having a heart attack!” Being a good person, you would no doubt spring into action, call 9-1-1, look for aspirin or a defibrillator, and so on.

Suppose that same person had instead yelled, “Help, she’s having a myocardial infarction!” You would probably react the same way … but wouldn’t you perhaps pause for just a second? Unless you’re a medical professional, wouldn’t you first have to engage in some type of internal translation? I would. The ailing woman might get better care at a hospital with such detailed wording, but the immediate danger she faces in the restaurant hides behind the wrong language.

Here’s the problem: Although most Americans today say that climate change is a real and serious issue, most probably don’t understand what the term “climate” means. The difference between climate and weather, the moving target of climate averages, and the intangibility of climate experience all make “climate” a problematic word to rally around. I know the Northwest has a rainy climate, and because I experience getting wet frequently, I know in my bones that this is true. The same goes for Palm Springs: You have a warm climate. But, alas, the word “climate” can become jargon.

Yes, the climate is changing, but it is an acute global environmental crisis—global warming—that is touching the realities of daily life for millions of people around the world.

Houston just turned into a gigantic lake. Hurricane Irma, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, is on the march across the Caribbean, one of three hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico as of this writing. Furnace Creek, Calif., the hottest place on Earth, posted its hottest July on record. Unprecedented peat fires burn in Greenland. Extreme weather events across the globe abound, and they are tied not just to generalized climate change, but directly to heat. The term “global warming” comes with baggage stuffed full of 30 years of politics, but for now it is the best we have.

Both global warming and climate change been used to describe what’s happening to the planet since the 1970s. Conventionally, global warming refers specifically to the rise of average global temperatures, and climate change refers more broadly, to shifts in prevailing environmental conditions, including the odd spot that is getting colder.

As the 1990s and 2000s saw popular culture build concern for global warming, the issue got entangled in bitter politics. Because “global warming” was accused of sounding alarmist, some researchers hoped that the term “climate change” would sound more scientific.

But climate change has been the wrong phrase for the job, because it is too scientific. It has failed to provoke urgency and been easy to pooh-pooh. (It’s probably not a coincidence that a Republican political strategist recommended using the term “climate change,” because he said “it is less frightening than ‘global warming.’”)

“Change” is a neutral term that does not convey that humanity is the culprit behind what’s happening. After all, it is entirely correct that the climate is always changing—a frequent retort from climate-change deniers. Furthermore, many shifts caused by global warming are not climatic—think sea-level rise, ocean acidification and melting glaciers. This further confuses the terminology.

Al Gore has recently taken to talking instead about the “climate crisis.” While I find this a laudable step, there is still a challenge with the word climate—we just can’t touch the climate. “Global weirding” and “global environmental change” both offer alternatives, but both have failed to catch on.

If I look south outside my window, I can see a small patch of dirty blue ice on a mountain in Denali National Park. Just eight years ago, when I first came here, this patch was significantly larger and snow-white all summer long. Now there is a tan bathtub ring around what used to be a glacier. This change is personal, precise and experiential.

Words matter. Words invoke, connote and direct attention as we move through the world. Discouraging use of the term “climate change” might just turn out to be a good thing. As long as we continue to talk about the subject: Let’s stick with global warming.

Alex Lee is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He is an assistant professor of philosophy at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage.

Published in Community Voices

Earl Butz, Richard Nixon’s controversial secretary of Agriculture, was a profane man known for his hair-trigger temper and his rough handling of subordinates. So when the chief of the Forest Service stood him up for a meeting, Butz unloaded in response: “There are four branches of government,” he reportedly snarled, “the executive, legislative, judicial and the Gawd-damn U.S. Forest Service.”

Although current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack might have worded it differently, he probably appreciates the sentiment now: He recently discovered how ornery the powerful Forest Service can be.

At issue was one of Vilsack’s pet projects—an attempt to reshape the image of the entire $132 billion Agriculture Department, which oversees everything from plant and animal inspections, food safety and ending hunger to the health and productivity of national forests. Dubbed “One Brand,” this graphic facelift has engaged Agriculture Department officials overseeing the agency’s 20 departments for the past three years. One Brand’s goal has been to strip each organization of its historic symbols and insignias, replacing them with a generic logo symbolizing the mother ship—the Agriculture Department. All that would remain visually would be the individual agencies’ initials set in much smaller type centered beneath the Agriculture Department’s dominant initials.

It was appropriate that this homogenizing directive was embedded in an innocuous-sounding document called the Visual Standards Guide. It detailed the items that One Brand would cover and announced the establishment of an oversight office within the Agriculture Department—the delightfully named Brand, Events, Exhibits, and Editorial Review Division, acronym BEEERD. Its reach would be broad and deep, extending from the appearance of social-media platforms such as Facebook sites, Twitter feeds and websites, to all signage, vehicles, uniforms, letterheads and envelopes, decals and PowerPoint presentations, right down to the “Hello, My Name Is …” adhesive name tags.

The directive, however, unleashed a firestorm of protest. But the outrage did not come from within the affected agencies, for few staffers knew anything about the impending airbrushing. Instead, it was Forest Service retirees who learned—to their considerable dismay—that longtime agency logos were being phased out and replaced with “a standardized signature model to be adopted by all USDA agencies.” That meant that the Forest Service’s distinctive pine-tree shield ––worn by men and women for well more than a century––would cease to exist.

Infuriated but organized through the National Association of Forest Service Retirees, the critics bombarded the agriculture secretary’s office with phone calls, emails and letters, sending copies to the beleaguered head of BEEERD as well. Protesters also reached out to their congressional delegations, called local talk radio shows, and contacted newspapers and other media.

Their opposition took on the air of a revival meeting. They talked about the emblematic power of the logo to bind them to one another and to the land they helped steward. The evocative shield and the uniform to which it was pinned testified to their devoted public service, they said. Shedding these symbols, and the emotional attachments they held, seemed like a deliberate attack on their collective history. These defenders proved a potent collective, and so overwhelming was their opposition that it forced the Agriculture Department’s hand.

In a one-sentence release on April 4, the department granted the Forest Service an exemption to its One Brand directive. You could hear the hosannas from agency retirees and staffers a mile off.

Every other department in agriculture, however, has had to submit to the exorcizing of their respective insignias, causing blows to their staff’s morale. In British Columbia, Canada, public-land managers in the provincial forest service, learning of their American counterparts’ successful pushback, regretted that they had not had generated as forceful of a reaction when their home department obliterated their own century-old pine-tree emblem in favor of yet another bland, generic symbol.

What this Forest Service protest reveals is a deep uneasiness with the growing, corporate-style flattening of difference and identity within governmental bureaucracies. To their credit, Forest Service defenders showed an alert wariness toward lockstep representation and uniform thought.

Rebranding consultants, like the ones the Agriculture Department hired to guide its efforts, probably promoted this strategy as a positive way to harness a company’s disparate personnel. But the Department of Agriculture is not a business, and its subagencies’ varied missions and different objectives cannot be, and should not have been, unilaterally reined in.

As the dustup with the Forest Service suggests, a proud institutional history is a sustaining source of workplace identity and individual satisfaction. That’s a core value even Earl Butz might have respected.

Char Miller is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He directs the Environmental Analysis program at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and is the author of the just-released On the Edge: Water, Immigration and Politics in the Southwest.

Published in Community Voices