CVIndependent

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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

The state of California’s response to the pandemic, as of late, has been a big mess.

First: The state’s COVID-19 data reporting is all messed up. According to the Los Angeles Times, the state is dealing with a backlog of up to 300,000 test results—and is in the process of developing a whole new tracking system, because the current one is not up to the admittedly massive task:

“(Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California Health and Human Services secretary) said the state would work through the backlog of records, which include COVID-19 tests and other health results, over the next 24 to 48 hours. He said state missteps compounded a problem that began with a server outage and promised a full investigation.

“The data failure set off alarm bells this week as total deaths surpassed 10,000 in California, a state that leads the nation in COVID-19 cases despite the undercount and has struggled to mitigate the virus. The delayed results could significantly increase the confirmed spread of COVID-19 from a total of 540,000 cases in the state as of early Friday.”

Sigh. Meanwhile, county health officials—already upset about the state’s arbitrary and odd reopening criteria—are being left in the figurative lurch without accurate data from the state.

Second: The state was tardy in issuing guidance to the state’s colleges and universities on how to handle student housing, in-person instruction and other important matters. Again, according to the Los Angeles Times: “Many campuses, including USC and Claremont McKenna, say the lack of clear and timely state guidance has caused them to spend enormous energy and money preparing for varying reopening scenarios—without knowing what will be allowed amid a surge of COVID-19 infections.

For the record, the state finally released that guidance today. Check it out here—if you’re bored, crazy or into dense 34-page lists of rules.

In the state’s defense, this pandemic and its effects are so huge, all-encompassing and unforeseen that mistakes and delays are not only understandable; they’re inevitable. But still … state officials need to do better than this.

Also worth noting: Gov. Gavin Newsom gave a news conference on Monday, when he touted the news of statewide COVID-19 case decreases—news that we now know may not have been accurate, because of the data mess, which people began learning about on Tuesday.

Newsom hasn’t given a news conference since. Not good, governor.

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Here are some stats we can trust … we think: The COVID-19 stats at Eisenhower Medical Center are trending in the right direction.

The extra federal unemployment boost has ended. PPP loans are running out. And our federal government can’t agree on what to do about it. Sigh.

• Per usual, I was a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr. Hear me rant more about the state data fustercluck, as well as the crappiness of most talk radio!

• As more and more vaccine candidates get closer to what we all hope are successful finish lines, we’ve been bombarded with news about them—often spun by the profit-driven manufacturers themselves. Well, MedPage Today just published a nice, concise look at these vaccines, how they’re different, and what we do and do not know.

• The Washington Post today posted an excellent interactive piece examining what it will take for the United States to reach herd immunity, be it by letting the virus run its course, or via a successful vaccine. The piece also looks at where we are now regarding antibodies and possible immunity. Spoiler alert: If you’re someone who thinks we should adopt the Sweden 1.0 approach and just let the virus run amok … that’ll likely mean a million or more dead Americans.

• So after the vaccines (hopefully) arrive … then what? HuffPost asked some experts to predict what life in the U.S. will be like in the years that follow a successful vaccine. Hint: Don’t expect a return to a February-style “normal.”

• According to Desert Healthcare District CEO Conrado Barzaga, the district is focused on “strengthening our healthcare infrastructure, improving our community’s health, and providing protection to vulnerable populations while still fighting a pandemic.” If you are involved with an entity that can help do any of that, take note: The DHCD will be holding a webinar at 3 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10, via Zoom to introduce five new strategic funding areas, and to demonstrate how to apply for grants or mini-grants. You need to RSVP; get details here.

A partisan elected official is responsible for writing the wording of each ballot proposition … and, well, that partisanship often affects what is written. This leads to numerous lawsuits—but judges almost never step in to change what Attorney Xavier Becerra’s office has come up with. Our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent, look at this mess—and possible solutions.

More airlines are getting very serious about mask use. Hooray.

Two stories about this week’s devastating explosion in Beirut worth reading: A Los Angeles Times reporter writes about his experience surviving the explosion; he notes that he probably should be dead, but a motorcycle helmet saved his life. Meanwhile, for you science nerds out there: A blast-injury specialist examines the physics of the blast, and compares it to what we know about the only other comparable non-nuclear explosion on record, which happened in 1917 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

• Also from Wired: The magazine recently sat down for an interview with Bill Gates, who does not have nice things to say about the federal response to the pandemic. Beyond that, he has a lot of other revealing things to say. Key quote: “Now whenever we get this done, we will have lost many years in malaria and polio and HIV and the indebtedness of countries of all sizes and instability. It’ll take you years beyond that before you’d even get back to where you were at the start of 2020.

According to The Conversation, it’s becoming more and more apparent that wearable fitness devices may be able to let you know if you’re suffering from possible early coronavirus symptoms.

• Federal employees, including some who work at prisons, are suing the federal government. Why? They think they deserve hazard pay, according to NPR.

• Related: State prison employees are also taking legal action: Their union has filed a grievance claiming the state’s misdeeds have led to uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s prison system.

• CNBC talked to experts regarding legitimate medical reasons people could possibly have to not wear a face mask while around other people. The conclusion? Unless you have a specific facial deformity or a “sensory processing disorder,” you should be masking up.

• Much has been written about Donald Trump’s … uh, baffling moves to ban TikTok. Well, as MarketWatch points out, his executive orders went well beyond TikTok—and could hamper everything from Tesla to streaming sports to the world’s most popular videogames.

Oregon voters will decide in November whether to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all drugs.

• Barring a change of plans, the Mission Inn Festival of Lights in Riverside will indeed happen this year—albeit without the crowd-gathering events and parties.

The Apple Fire continues to burn, with some residents of Pioneertown and Morongo Valley being told to prepare to evacuate.

• And now for something completely different: Regular readers of the Independent have enjoyed Keith Knight’s comics, (Th)ink and The Chronicles, for years. Well, a new show based on his life is coming to Hulu on Sept. 9. Check out the trailer for Woke here—and congrats, Keef!

Have a safe and happy-as-possible weekend, everyone. Be safe. The Daily Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Wednesday, everyone. Let’s get right into it:

• Remember how on Monday, we said that Gov. Gavin Newsom was expressing tentative optimism about a statewide decrease in COVID-19 cases? Well … it turns out there may or may not be a decrease at all—because the state reporting system is currently being hampered by technical issues. According to our partners at CalMatters: “California’s daily count of COVID-19 cases appears to be falling, but that may be due to underreporting caused by technical issues, state health officials said (Tuesday). ‘We’ve discovered some discrepancies,’ said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary in a press call. Data, he said, is ‘getting stuck’ in the electronic system that feeds information from test labs to both the state and local public health departments. This means counties and the state are not getting a full picture of who and how many are testing positive. That lack of information hampers the counties’ ability to investigate cases and initiate contact tracing, Ghaly said.” Whoops! 

• And here are details on an even-more heinous state whoops, also according to our partners at CalMatters: “As the coronavirus continues to sicken Californians, the state mistakenly terminated or reduced health-insurance benefits for thousands of low-income people. An error involving the state’s Medi-Cal program and its automated system for renewals triggered the drops in coverage—despite the governor’s executive order earlier this year that was supposed to ensure that people maintain access to safety net programs during the pandemic.” Yeesh.

• Meanwhile, the United Parcel Service is prepping for that happy day a vaccine is available: Bloomberg reports that UPS is building two “giant freezer farms” that can each hold up to 48,000 vaccine vials.

• More vaccine news: Johnson and Johnson will deliver 100 million vaccine does to the U.S. for a cool $1 billion when they’re ready—and give the U.S. the option to buy another 200 million doses, the drug-maker announced today. Presuming, you know, the vaccine actually works.

• Because the federal testing plan … uh, really isn’t a thing, seven states have joined forces to buy more than 3 million coronavirus antigen tests. These tests could be a game-changer; according to Bloomberg, “the tests, which search for proteins on the surface of the virus, can deliver results in 15 to 20 minutes.

• Public Citizen, “a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power,” yesterday issued a scathing report accusing Gilead Sciences and the federal government of “sitting on a potentially promising coronavirus treatment (GS-441524) for months that may offer significant advantages over the closely related antiviral drug remdesivir, possibly to maximize profits.” Read what Public Citizen has to say here.

• CNN today released a series of before and after satellite images of the pure devastation created by the massive explosion in Beirut yesterday. Simply put: They’re horrifying.

• It appears neither major-party presidential candidate will appear at their conventions to accept their nominations this year. The Biden campaign said today that the former vice president will not be going to Milwaukee, while the Trump administration is making plans for the president to deliver his nomination-acceptance speech from the White House, which may not exactly be legal.

• From the Independent: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—which allows some undocumented residents who were brought to the United States as children to gain legal status—were illegal. Nonetheless, feds are pretty much terminating the program anyway. Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to two local activists about the toll the DACA shutdown is taking on local undocumented families.

• Also from the Independent: President Trump recently suggested that we delay the election because of the supposed threat of mail-in voting fraud. Could he really do such a thing? Probably not … but Jeffrey C. Billman examines other scenarios Republicans seem to be preparing to use to create a constitutional crisis the likes of which the country has not seen since 1976.

• Past and present U.S. surgeons general said earlier this week that concerns over vaccines in the Black community could be a big problem, according to MedPage Today. That same publication also examined a related problem: Scientists aren’t doing enough to make sure people of color are being included in various clinical trials.

• The U.S. military has found the amphibious assault vehicle that sank off the coast of San Clemente Island last week, killing eight Marines and one sailor. CNN has the details on these people who died in service to our country.

• If you have not yet watched the bonkers interview President Trump did with Axios on HBO yet … boy, it’s worth your time—and here’s a link to the whole thing.

The PPP loans are starting to run out … and that means that more layoffs are coming.

• Our partners at High Country News took a pants-wetting look at the ways in which religious zealots in the West are using the pandemic as an opportunity to gain converts. Key quote: “When asked how he would respond to observers who say he’s exploiting people’s fear to further his anti-LGBTQ+, anti-women, anti-abortion agenda, (Idaho preacher Doug) Wilson responded frankly. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I am.’

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted yesterday to declare racism as a public health crisis. Better late than never!

The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership crunched the numbers on the decrease in passenger accounts at the Palm Springs International Airport. Key quote: “The lockdown, which started in mid-March, had an immediate effect, with passenger traffic for the month quickly dropping 50 percent. April and May traffic were down an unfathomable 97 percent and 90 percent. Projecting a conservative 50 percent drop in passengers for the rest of the year would result in a 2.8 million decrease in passengers for the entire year, resulting in passenger traffic for the year being only one-third of 2019.”

Flu-shot makers are producing record amounts of this year’s flu vaccine, anticipating that more people than ever will be getting the shots, because of … well, you know. 

• If you’re planning on sneaking into New York City without quarantining for two weeks, beware: They may have checkpoints waiting for you.

• We recently pointed out social-media sleuthing indicating that the Riviera may soon become a Margaritaville resort. Well, Jimmy Buffett fans can rejoice, because the conversion was officially announced today.

If you have Disney+ and are willing to fork out an extra $29.99, you will be able to watch the much-anticipated Mulan from your couch Sept. 4.

• Finally, because life is random and weird, yet history keeps repeating: Both Who’s the Boss? and Ren and Stimpy are being rebooted. Happy, happy, joy, joy!

Be safe, everyone. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. If you value honest, independent local journalism, and have the means to do so, we ask you to help us continue to do what we do by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Thanks for reading! The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's fresh and fruity weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen ponders the desires of Senate Republicans; The K Chronicles enjoys a quarantine dream about a frozen-foods empire; This Modern World looks at election reassurances from the Trump administration; Red Meat visits a mobile dermatologist; and Apoca Clips features Li'l Trumpy's musings on likability.

Published in Comics

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. 

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Published in National/International

On this week's Emmy-nomination-snubbed weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles pays tribute to a civil rights great; This Modern World brings us the latest tales of The Unbelievable Trump; Jen Sorensen invites the world to come visit the United States; Red Meat gives a pet some treats; and Apoca Clips admires the genius of Li'L Trumpy.

Published in Comics

On this week's weekly Independent comics page, which can also serve as a very difficult cognitive test: Jen Sorensen examines the GOP's COVID-19 strategy; (Th)ink offers a tip o' the hat to Mary Trump; This Modern World ponders the president's re-election strategy; Red Meat engages in some serious parenting; and Apoca Clips asks Li'l Trumpy about that Chris Wallace interview on Fox News.

Published in Comics

On this week's forced smile of a weekly Independent comica page: Jen Sorensen looks at the Postal Service of the future; (Th)ink watches as Tucker Carlson goes on a fishing vacation; This Modern World uses another parable involving another cliff; Red Meat seeks a large candied nut log; and Apoca Clips introduces Li'l Trumpy to Bizarro Trump.

Published in Comics

On this week's extra-super-toasty weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World invites you to play an exciting game of Spot the Mistakes; Jen Sorenson ponders the cycle of gentrification; (Th)ink figures out why there are such few Black NASCAR drivers; Apoca Clips reveals Li'l Trumpy's plans to stop the protests; and Red Meat takes in a delightful movie.

Published in Comics

On this week's slightly less open weekly Independent comics page: (Th)ink explains Trump's confusion over "bounties"; This Modern World looks yet again at Life in the Stupidverse; Jen Sorensen carefully considers anti-mask arguments; Apoca Clips is horrified as Li'l Trumpy finally agrees to wear a mask; and Red Meat enjoys some delicious peanut butter.

Published in Comics

It’s now the law: Californians must wear face coverings while they’re in public.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the mandate—something this newspaper called on the governor to do two days ago—earlier today, as confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.

More people are hospitalized in Riverside County—which rescinded a mask order on May 9—and the Coachella Valley with COVID-19 than ever before. The number of hospitalizations in Riverside County rose by almost 11 percent in one day, to 285, as of yesterday. In the Coachella Valley, also as of yesterday, the three hospitals reported 108 COVID-19 patients, up from a previous all-time high of 103 the day before.

The statewide order replaces a patchwork mess of local orders—some cities and counties required masks, while others didn’t, leading to a lot of confusion. It also takes the pressure off of beleaguered county health officials—at least seven of which have quit their jobs in recent weeks, in part because of angry reactions from the public.

The importance of the order is bolstered by an increasing amount of science indicating that the use of masks can make a huge difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

While some people’s minds won’t be changed by the new state law, others’ minds will be changed. Our partners at CalMatters, reporting on the news of the day, talked to a Sacramento woman, Wendy Valdez, who was not wearing a mask while she shopped at a grocery store. “Her reasoning: It wasn’t required at the time,” CalMatters reported. “But if it were, she said, she’d wear it. ‘I just got my hair done and they required it, so I wore one,’ she said.”

This face-covering order is a big deal. It’ll decrease the amount of time overwhelmed local business owners need to spend acting as the “mask police”—and it’ll save lives. To repeat what we said two days ago: California’s reopening process has a much better chance of succeeding now.

Thank you, Gov. Newsom.

Just a few more items from the day:

• I was on the I Love Gay Palm Springs Podcast today—you can hear me rant about the need for a statewide mask order before Newsom’s announcement—along with hosts John Taylor and Shann Carr, and guests Bryan Gallo, of NBC Palm Springs; Will Dean, of the Desert Healthcare District; LaShawn McGhee, co-founder of Revry TV; and actress Allie McCarthy, who stars in a Palm Springs International ShortFest film.

Airlines are beginning to crack down on the need for face coverings during flights. This has led, alas, to some drama.

• Speaking of face masks: While scientists virtually all agree that they’re effective, they’re arguing about how effective they are. Buzzfeed News looks at a letter more than 40 scientists sent to a journal, asking them to retract a paper written by Nobel Prize-winning chemist regarding their effectiveness.

Facebook today removed advertisements placed by the Trump campaign that, according to The New York Times, “prominently featured a symbol used by Nazis to classify political prisoners during World War II, saying the imagery violated company policy.” Wow.

We’ll be back tomorrow with an expanded Daily Digest. In the meantime, wash your hands; fight injustice; and wear a mask, because it’s the law. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means, and you value the quality local journalism that we do. Thank you.

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