CVIndependent

Sat09192020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Happy Friday, all. Let’s get straight to the news:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died. NPR’s Nina Totenberg sums it up: “Architect of the legal fight for women’s rights in the 1970s, Ginsburg subsequently served 27 years on the nation’s highest court, becoming its most prominent member. Her death will inevitably set in motion what promises to be a nasty and tumultuous political battle over who will succeed her, and it thrusts the Supreme Court vacancy into the spotlight of the presidential campaign.” Thank you for working so hard for so long, Justice Ginsburg.

• Fires remain the big news in the west. The Los Angeles Times offers news on the nearby Snow fire, which was sparked by a burning car and has forced evacuations; and shares the awful news that a firefighter has died battling the El Dorado firethe one that was sparked by that gender-reveal party down the road near Yucaipa.

• On latest episode of How the CDC Turns: Now the official government guidelines again say that if you’ve been in contact with someone who has the coronavirus, you should get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms. CNN explains the craziness.

The president today announced he’s banning TikTok and WeChat from mobile-app stores as of Sunday. As a result, China is ticked off—as is the American Civil Liberties Union

• Yet more Census shenanigans: The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that Census workers there were told their work was over—even though the entire city had not yet been surveyed. Key quote: “Several (workers) reported being offered counting jobs in Reno, Fort Bragg (Mendocino County) or the far reaches of the East Bay instead. But San Francisco, their supervisors told them, was fully counted even though statistics … showed that was far from the truth.” 

Also from the Chronicle comes this: “The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, managed by the University of California but federally funded, has suspended its employees’ diversity training program by order of the Trump administration, which recently called such programs ‘divisive, anti-American propaganda,’ The Chronicle has learned.” Sigh. 

The Public Policy Institute just released a new poll regarding Californians’ feelings on all sorts of things. Turns out Californians like Gavin Newsom and Joe Biden, but aren’t wild about the idea of bringing back affirmative action.

NBC News takes a look at the problems some people, who want to vote by mail, are having in other states. Key quote: “Mississippi and four other states—Indiana, Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee—continue to limit vote-by-mail access and don't consider the pandemic to be a valid reason for absentee voting. Each state faces numerous legal challenges to the stymied access. With less than two months until Election Day, many voters remain confused about whether and how they can vote by mail. The uncertainty has the potential to affect voter access and, therefore, the outcomes of the elections themselves.”

• While we’ve been making good progress at stemming the figurative tide of COVID-19 around these parts, the number of new cases has doubled in much of Europe in recent weeks. And they’re soaring in Israel as well.

• Two professors, writing for The Conversation, make the case that “humanity can leverage the internet to collaborate and share innovations toward solving pressing societal problems” like COVID-19. How would this work? Well, for starters, they think we should make taxpayer-funded health efforts, like vaccines, open-source.

• A smidgen of good news: There’s yet more evidence that efforts around the world to slow the spread of the coronavirus are also tamping down the flu. MedPage Today has the update.

Can wearing eyeglasses decrease your chances of getting COVID-19? Data out of China indicates it’s a possibility.

• From the Independent: Andrew Smith worked at Lord Fletcher’s, the legendary Rancho Mirage joint, famous for its prime rib, that was one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite places to hang out. The owner announced last month he was closing the restaurant and putting it up for sale; here’s Andrew’s remembrance. Key quote: “The portrait of Frank Sinatra, framed and mounted behind his favorite table, always attracted the most attention. Michael Fletcher has hundreds of stories to tell, but the most notable is about the night that Sinatra and Alan Shepard jumped behind the bar to perform a duet of ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’”

• According to The Hill: “Aria DiMezzo, a self-described ‘transsexual Satanist anarchist,’ won the Republican primary for sheriff in Cheshire County, N.H., last week.” Wait, what?

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, where I discussed the reopening prospects for Riverside County, among other things. Check it out!

• The year 2020 has brought the world a lot of things, most of them terrible. However, it will also bring the world its first Lifetime Christmas movie with a gay storyline. I just don’t know what to think anymore.

• And finally, Gene Weingarten, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, writes about what happened after a neighbor asked him for a tomato. Trust me when I say you’ll want to read this—and read it until the end.

That’s enough for today. I am going to get together with some friends, socially distanced in a friend’s backyard, to toast the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Digest will be back on Monday; have a great weekend despite all the chaos, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

Riverside County businesses may soon be allowed to further reopen—and San Diego County businesses may soon be forced to further close.

Those are some of the takeaways from yesterday’s weekly update of the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” statuses.

To recap: Every county in the state has been placed in one of four “county risk levels,” depending on the COVID-19 test-positivity rate, and the case rate per 100,000 residents. Riverside County is currently in the most-restrictive “Widespread” category, for counties that have a positivity rate higher than 8 percent, and more than 7 new daily cases per 100,000 people. The next less-restrictive category, “Substantial”—San Diego County’s current tier—requires a positivity rate between 5 and 8 percent, and between 4 and 7 new daily cases per 100,000.

As of this week’s update, Riverside County’s positivity rate is listed as 6.4 percent, with 6.7 daily cases per 100,000—which would put us in less-restrictive “Substantial” territory. However, per the state: “At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least 3 weeks before moving forward.” So … that means Riverside County could possibly move into the less-restrictive “Substantial” category as of Sept. 29.

San Diego County’s numbers, however, are moving in the opposite direction: As of yesterday’s update, the adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 was 8.1—higher than the “Substantial” threshold, even though the county’s positivity rate is a quite-good 4.5 percent. According to the state: “If a county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned a more restrictive tier. Public health officials are constantly monitoring data and can step in if necessary.”

Got all that? Good.

The difference in the tiers is quite substantial. That’s why in San Diego County—which, again, remains in the less-restrictive “Substantial” category for now—personal-care services (waxing, nails, etc.) can currently operate indoors. Churches can be open for indoor service at 25 percent capacity. Gyms can open indoors at 10 percent capacity. Movie theaters can open indoors at 25 percent capacity.

None of that can happen in Riverside County yet.

Meanwhile, county leaders in both places aren’t happy with the state’s criteria. San Diego County officials say their spike in numbers has to do with San Diego State University, and asked the state to not count the college’s numbers in their county metrics. The state said no to that request.

Here, local business leaders are clamoring for Riverside County to open faster, no matter what the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” metrics say. The state is very likely to say no to this request, too.

Stay tuned, folks.

Today’s news links:

• The big local news today: The arena that had been planned for downtown Palm Springs will now instead be built near Cook Street and Interstate 10. The Agua Caliente tribe is no longer involved; instead, the Oak View Group will partner with The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation. From the news release: “The Seattle Kraken’s AHL Franchise, led by David Bonderman and OVG, will play in the new arena once construction is complete. Groundbreaking and construction are scheduled for 2021. The arena is expected to open in the last quarter of 2022.”

• It’s been a fascinating and completely insane couple of days for followers of college football. The Big 10 Conference today announced it would begin playing football this fall after all—as soon as Oct. 23. Then the Pac-12 Conference—the only remaining power conference not to announce plans to play in the fall—announced plans to play in the fall. All of this happened the day after LSU’s coach told the media that most of his team had contracted COVID-19 … amid increasing questions about the virus’ long-term effects on athletes. Repeat after me: Nothing makes sense anymore.

• In the aftermath of this week’s terrible shootings of two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, the actions of the department are raising a whole lot of concerns.

• Good lord, this is awful: A whistleblower has come forward with claims that detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody have been subjected to questionable hysterectomies. Key quote, from NPR: “The complaint says that several immigrant women expressed concerns to Project South about a high rate of hysterectomies and that (whistleblower Dawn) Wooten and other nurses at the facility questioned the number of women undergoing the procedure as well as their ability to fully understand and consent to it. According to the complaint, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five women at the facility who received hysterectomies between October and December 2019 and said they “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” ICE officials have denied wrongdoing.

A group of gym owners is suing the state over COVID-19-mandated closures. According to The Associated Press: “The suit accuses state and Los Angeles County officials of requiring gyms to close without providing evidence that they contribute to virus outbreaks and at a time when staying healthy is critical to California’s residents. The prolonged closure is depriving millions of people the ability to exercise as temperatures soar and smoky air from wildfires blankets much of the state, said Francesca Schuler, a founding partner of the (California Fitness Alliance).

• According to Yelp, 60 percent of pandemic-related business closures are now permanent closures. CNBC explains.

• Some people who have been jobless since the first stay-at-home order are about to exhaust their 26 weeks of state unemployment. What’s next for them? The San Francisco Chronicle explains.

Don’t expect a widespread SARS-CoV-2 vaccine until the middle of next year. So said the CDC director today.

• The Los Angeles Times recently decided to test the speed of first-class USPS mail delivery. The verdict? It’s definitely slower these days.

Both climate change and forest management are responsible for the hellfire blanketing the West these days. A professor of history from the University of Oregon, writing for The Conversation, says: “Management policies have created tinderboxes in Western forests, and climate change has made it much more likely that those tinderboxes will erupt into destructive fires. A third factor is that development has expanded into once-wild areas, putting more people and property in harm’s way.”

• From the Independent: When Palm Springs Pride announced tentative plans for a car caravan as part of an otherwise primarily online celebration in November, some people freaked out—unjustifiably, perhaps. I recently spoke to Pride president and CEO Ron deHarte about what Palm Springs Pride 2020 will look like. Key quote from deHarte, regarding that caravan: “We’re not creating assembly points. … This is being made for TV. The idea is to really show people who are at home, not participating; they can tune into YouTube or the livestream on Facebook. There are not going to be things for people to see—but if somebody was to go sit alongside the road, there are going to be at least 10 miles of roadway where anyone who is conscious of what’s going on in society today can social distance themselves. … But we just don’t see (people gathering) happening. It hasn’t happened in the 17 cities that we’ve been modeling from.”

• Take rising interest rates off your list of things to worry about. Per CNBC: “Projections from individual members (of the Federal Reserve) also indicated that rates could stay anchored near zero through 2023. All but four members indicated they see zero rates through then. This was the first time the committee forecast its outlook for 2023.”

• NBC News looks at the influence YouTube is having on the presidential election this year. Key quote: “YouTube, founded in 2005, has often been overshadowed by the likes of Facebook and Twitter as a place where political campaigning happens online, but this year is shaping up differently, and the fall promises to test YouTube’s capacity to serve as a political referee.”

• Finally … I know I could use a drink, and wine actually sounds quite lovely right now. Here are some fall wine suggestions from Independent wine columnist and resident sommelier Katie Finn.

Happy Wednesday, all! Thanks to everyone from reading. Please help the Independent continue producing quality local journalism—and making it free to everyone, without paywalls or fees—by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return on Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

Before we jump into the news links, I have two bits of Independent-related information I’d like to share:

1.If you see Kevin Fitzgerald out and about, I strongly encourage you to buy him a drink. (Not that he’ll be out and about, and not that you could buy him a drink unless he also got a meal, because, well, COVID-19. Bleh. But you get what I am saying.)

Why do we all owe Kevin a debt of gratitude? Because he has been, and will be, spending a lot of time interviewing local candidates for public office, and then transcribing those interviews, for our renowned Candidate Q&A series. And, well, let’s just say that some of these candidates are verbose.

The first three sets of interviews—with the candidates for the Palm Desert City Council’s two districts, and the contested Palm Springs City Council district—are now posted at CVIndependent.com. (That’s more than 16,000 words of interviews, by the way. So, yeah, make the imaginary drink for Kevin a double.)

Between now and Election Day, we’ll be talking to as many of the other candidates for the contested local city council races as we can. I’ll be honest: We may not get to all eight of the valley’s City Council contests taking place this November, but we’re going to do the best we can.

Maybe make that drink a triple?

2. If you have not yet voted in the first round of the Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, you only have a few hours left (presuming you’re reading this Monday evening)—because voting ends tonight! Click here for details.

After voting ends, we’ll count all the ballots, and then announce all of the finalists on Sept. 28—at which time the final round of balloting will start.

Thanks to all of you who’ve voted already!

Today’s links:

• The president today came to California to talk about the wildfires. As The New York Times put it: “At a briefing in California, Trump and Gov. Gavin Newsom disagree, as politely as possible, on climate change.” CNN was more, uh, blunt: “Trump baselessly questions climate science during California wildfire briefing.” Key takeaway: The leader of the free world said the fires aren’t the fault of climate change, but of poor forest management by the states. Even though the feds own and control most of the forest land.

• Meanwhile, at least two dozen people have died as a result of California’s wildfires, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• Two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were ambushed and shot in the head Saturday night—and amazingly, both are expected to survive. Thank goodness. The Los Angeles Times looks at the aftermath.

• Following the shooting, L.A. sheriff’s deputies shoved, arrested and then detained journalist Josie Huang, of NPR station KPCC, and charged her with obstructing justice. Per The Washington Post: “Police claimed Huang, who also reports for LAist, didn’t have credentials and ignored demands to leave the area. But those claims are contradicted by video Huang shared on Sunday showing her quickly backing away from police when ordered to do so and repeatedly identifying herself as a journalist. Huang said she also had a press badge around her neck.”

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria laid out a likely Election Day scenario for which we all must prepare: According to polling showing who’s likely to vote in person versus by mail, it’s quite likely Donald Trump will be ahead in many states as Election Night draws to a close—but that Biden will pull ahead as mail-in ballots are counted in subsequent days. The result of all of this could be a big, constitutional-crisis mess.

• Good news: The AstraZeneca vaccine trial has resumed. It had been paused for several days after a participant suffered a serious spinal ailment. As CNBC explains: “Illnesses often occur by chance in large trials but are investigated out of an abundance of caution.”

Here’s this week’s District 4 report of COVID-19 stats from the county. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but all the bad numbers continue to decline, which is good, but the weekly positivity rate (12.6 percent) remains too high.

• Yet more good news: The county has opened its business-assistance grants to yet another group of small businesses. During the first two rounds of grants, businesses that received PPP funding were ineligible—but during this third round, businesses that received $75,000 or less in PPP funds may apply. Get the details here.

• Could face masks possibly be helping with COVID-19 immunity? It’s possible, but it has not been proven. From The Telegraph: “The commentary, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, advances the unproven but promising theory that universal face mask wearing might be helping to reduce the severity of the virus and ensuring that a greater proportion of new infections are asymptomatic. If this hypothesis is borne out, the academics argue, then universal mask-wearing could become a form of variolation (inoculation) that would generate immunity and ‘thereby slow the spread of the virus in the United States and elsewhere’ as the world awaits a vaccine.”

• One of the biggest claims from people who try to minimize the health havoc from COVID-19 is that it isn’t killing young people. However, it is giving some of them heart issues. According to MedPage Today: “Of 26 competitive athletes at Ohio State University scanned with cardiac MRI (CMR) after asymptomatic or mild cases of COVID-19, four (15 percent) had findings suggestive of myocarditis. Two of these had pericardial effusion; two had shortness of breath, while the others had no symptoms of myocarditis.”

• Given what happened just down the road in Yucaipa, you completely understand why I felt the need to share with you this story, from The Conversation, with the headlineWhy gender reveals have spiraled out of control.”

There may be life on Venus. We know this, because scientists have detected phosphine molecules in the otherwise-nasty atmosphere. CBS News explains.

• Because of, well, 2020, it turns out a lot more of us our grinding our teeth. The Washington Post explains why, as if you didn’t know why already.

• Also from The Washington Post comes this comprehensive COVID-19 etiquette guide. It is surprisingly helpful, even answering the question: “How can I get off one of these never-ending (Zoom) calls?”

• And finally, because, well, again 2020, killer whales are all of a sudden “ramming and harassing sailboats traveling along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts,” and nobody knows why. According to Insider: “In one instance, a crew member on a 46-foot delivery boat described being surrounded by nine orcas off Cape Trafalgar in Spain. The crew member, Victoria Morris, said the whales, which can weigh up to 6 tons, rammed the boat continually for one hour, causing it to spin 180 degrees and the engine to shut down.” Yikes!

That’s enough for the day. If you like what the Independent does, please consider sending us a few bucks to support us. The Daily Digest will return on Wednesday. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

There’s a lot of news on this Sept. 11, so let’s get right to it:

• The West Coast is on fire. The New York Times has started a live-updates page regarding the horrific blazes, the deadliest of which is near Portland, Ore., where dozens of people are either dead or missing, and half a million people face possible evacuation orders. Key quote: “‘We are preparing for a mass fatality incident based on what we know and the numbers of structures that have been lost,’ said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.”

• Our friends at Willamette Week, the Pulitzer-winning alternative newsweekly in Portland, are also doing fantastic coverage of the fires up there. Check it out.

• In Northern California, at least 10 are dead, with 16 reported missing, due to the North Complex fire in Butte County. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The collective scale of the infernos that have scarred the state over the last month is staggering: at least 20 fatalities, tens of thousands of structures destroyed and more than 3.1 million acres burned—the most recorded in a single year.”

• Of course, no tragedy these days can take place without conspiracy theories and misinformation popping up. The New York Times, via SFGate, looked at the insane and baseless claims, making their way around social media, that some of the West Coast wildfires were started by Antifa. Key quote: “Several law enforcement agencies in Oregon said they had been flooded with inquiries about rumors that activists were responsible. On Thursday, several journalists reporting on fires near the city of Molalla, Oregon, said they had been confronted by a group of armed people who were worried about unverified reports of arsonists in the area.”

• All the fires have created poor air quality throughout much of the west—and in Los Angeles, the smoky air prompted the county to shut down COVID-19 testing sites. Yikes.

• Related to the fires, here’s a speck of good news: Gov. Gavin Newsom today signed a bill that will make it easier for former inmates who served as volunteer firefighters to become badly needed professional firefighters. “For decades, thousands of inmate firefighters have battled wildfires across the state, working alongside professional firefighters in the scorching heat and smoke,” reports NBC News. “Yet the men and women prisoners who throw themselves in danger to help save lives and property often find it impossible to put their firefighting skills to use after their release, even in a state desperate for such labor.

• Related to COVID-19 testing: Riverside County is asking people, whether they’re symptomatic or not, to go get tested for COVID-19. In recent weeks, the number of county residents getting tested has fallen—to the point that it’s messing up the county’s hopes of moving into the next reopening tier. According to a news release: “Riverside County reached the positivity rate that will allow it to move to the red tier (7.8 percent), but the case rate remains higher than the state’s requirement. This week, the state began adjusting the case rate higher for counties that are not meeting the state’s daily average testing volume, which brought Riverside County’s case rate from 7.4 to 8.6. While Riverside County has the volume to test 4,000 people a day, only half that number have been getting tested at county and state testing sites in recent weeks.”

The Associated Press, via SFGate, reports that the testing backlog that was a huge problem in the state a month ago is gone, as the state increases testing capacity and fewer people get tested. “California's typical turnaround time for coronavirus tests has dropped to less than two days, state health officials said Thursday, a mark that allows for effective isolation and quarantine of those who are infected to limit the spread. Test results now are available from laboratories within 1.3 days on average, down from the five- to seven business days that officials commonly reported last month.”

• Regular readers know the Daily Digest rule about studies—they usually need to be taken with a massive grain of figurative salt. Well, such is the case with a new CDC study, which led to this alarming CNN headline: “Adults with Covid-19 about 'twice as likely' to say they have dined at a restaurant, CDC study suggests.” However, the study, of 314 people who were tested in July at 11 facilities around the country, has a massive flaw or two: “The study comes with some limitations, including … the question assessing dining at a restaurant did not distinguish between indoor versus outdoor dining.” That seems like a big distinction, no?!

• Well here’s something weird: Some researchers think the coronavirus may have been spreading in Los Angeles in December—before China even announced the outbreak in Wuhan. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The researchers didn’t conduct any diagnostic tests, so they can’t say with certainty when doctors first encountered anyone infected with the virus that came to be known as SARS-CoV-2. But if the coronavirus had indeed been spreading under the radar since around Christmas, the pattern of patient visits to UCLA facilities would have looked a lot like what actually happened, they wrote in a study published Thursday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.”

• Related: A group of engineering professors, writing for The Conversation, take a look at the 6-foot coronavirus rule—and the limitations it has. They say to think about COVID-19 the way you’d think of cigarette smoke at a bar: “There is no safe distance in a poorly ventilated room, unfortunately. Good ventilation and filtration strategies that bring in fresh air are critical to reduce aerosol concentration levels, just as opening windows can clear out a smoke-filled room.”

• The New York Daily News reported today—on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks—this: “The Trump administration has secretly siphoned nearly $4 million away from a program that tracks and treats FDNY firefighters and medics suffering from 9/11 related illnesses.” Key quote: “Here we have sick World Trade Center-exposed firefighters and EMS workers, at a time when the city is having difficult financial circumstances due to COVID-19, and we’re not getting the money we need to be able to treat these heroes,” said (Dr. David) Prezant, the FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer. “And for years, they wouldn’t even tell us—we never ever received a letter telling us this.

• It’s come to this: The Washington Post has started tracking the number of teachers who have died of COVID-19 this fall across the country. So far, the tally is six.

• Health Net and Carol’s Kitchen are offering a free flu-shot clinic, open to all Riverside County residents, on Monday, Sept. 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the James A. Venable Community Center, at 50390 Carmen Ave., up in Cabazon. If interested, get there early, as the supply of shots is limited.

The city of Palm Springs really wants you to participate in the 2020 Census! From the city: “On Wednesday, Sept. 16 the five members of the City Council will kick off a friendly competition to see whose district can get the highest Census response rate by hosting drive-by caravans throughout their respective districts to urge residents to respond. The caravans will kick off at 5:30 p.m. from the parking lot of the Palm Springs Public Library, 300 S. Sunrise Way, with several representatives from city departments, business, nonprofit and neighborhood organizations on hand.” Get details on that and more here. (Full disclosure: The city has paid for Census-outreach advertising at CVIndependent.com and in the Daily Digest; however, this item is not related to that purchase.)

The much-ballyhooed Virgin Hotel will not be built in Palm Springs after all. Per KESQ: “(Developer) Grit and Virgin also agreed to use the hotel site to instead build a 62-unit condominium complex instead of a hotel.” Hmm.

• I took this week off from the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, but Shann, John, Brad and Dr. Laura were all there, as were The Standard’s Nino Eilets, event-producer Daniel Vaillancourt, and the fabulous Debra Ann Mumm, the founder of the Create Center for the Arts!

• And finally, after all of that, you may need a drink. Our beer writer, Brett Newton, thinks perhaps you should consider mead for that drink … even though mead isn’t a beer. Check out what he has to say.

Have a great weekend, everyone. 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—voting closes on Monday! And you appreciate this Daily Digest and the other local journalism produced by the Independent, please consider financially helping out by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Be safe; the Daily Digest will return on Monday.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

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

On this week's completely woke weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips talks to Li'l Trumpy about Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan's move to Canada; Red Meat watches as Milkman Dan tries to give Karen a gift; This Modern World returns to the Stupidverse for commentary on the Iran mess; Jen Sorensen ponders Rupert Murdoch's media take on the Australian wildfires; and The K Chronicles has mixed feelings about his son's sudden interest in his old music.

Published in Comics

Anthony Rendon arrived feeling a little punchy. At 51, the speaker of the California Assembly is adjusting to life as a new dad—and his 3-month-old baby hadn’t slept well the night before.

“She was up at 1:30, 3, 4:30. And then once she woke up at 4:30, she didn’t fall asleep until 6,” Rendon said. “So that’s my life.”

The Los Angeles politician—sporting a black hoodie and Converse high tops as he sat for an interview in his district office—assumed one of California’s most-powerful roles in the spring of 2016. As the Assembly’s Democratic leader, he’s negotiated $200 billion state budgets with two Senate leaders and two governors. He’s overseen a political operation that resulted in Democrats winning a historically huge majority of more than 75 percent.

And yet around the Capitol, he’s probably best known for his low profile, rarely calling press conferences and opting not to author any bills so his members can share the spotlight. His style—at turns cerebral and self-deprecating—is unusual in a statehouse that attracts its share of showboats.

So it was with a certain understatement, as well as exhaustion, that Rendon, clutching a cup of coffee, shared his expectations for 2020—in the Capitol, at the ballot and for his family. Here are condensed highlights from our December interview.

So who gives a better baby present, Gavin Newsom or Jerry Brown?

I like Jerry Brown very much. And I’m not asking that he send a present, but he didn’t. Gavin Newsom and his wife sent a very nice gift. … It was a onesie. … It says “One California” or something. Get it? It’s a play on words. It’s a onesie. It’s very cute. And I meant to take a picture of her in it and send it to him, but I haven’t done that. I’m glad you reminded me.

You’re the first speaker in a while to have a young family. Recent legislative leaders either didn’t have children or had much older children. Do you think having a baby is going to impact your ability to do such a demanding job?

It impacts all aspects of my life. I think I’ll have to make adjustments, for sure. … Being speaker is a demanding job. And I’m sure being a parent is a demanding job as well. So something will have to give.

March of 2020 will mark four years that you’ve been assembly speaker. And if you remain speaker until the end of the legislative session—

That’s ominous.

… You’ll become the longest-serving speaker since Willie Brown. So, any fears of restless colleagues who might mount a challenge?

It’s not something that’s on my mind right now. I haven’t heard any rumblings. 

Your caucus grew a lot in 2018 because of the seats you successfully flipped. Then it got even bigger when GOP Assemblyman Brian Maienschein switched parties. What was that like to have a Republican in your caucus? Is it as easy as just switching jerseys and joining your team, or is there any awkwardness in having a former opponent as a colleague?

It probably sounds ludicrous … but I was amazed how seamless it was. When Brian announced that he was switching, I had a meeting with the caucus and said, “Hey, this is what he wants to do, and how do you guys feel about it?” And I almost felt like I was overpreparing them, because they were all like, “Cool.” (Even as a Republican) Brian voted with us so often.

More recently, local Assemblyman Chad Mayes left the Republican Party as well. He’s now registered with no party preference. But if he wanted to caucus with the Democrats, would you allow it?

I don’t know. I’d probably have to ask the caucus how they felt about it. He doesn’t seem to want to. I saw him (a few days ago). He feels pretty liberated to not be a member of a party. … I don’t think he wants to become a Democrat, and I don’t think he wants to caucus with us. I don’t think he wants to caucus with Republicans (either).

How are you feeling about your Assembly races in 2020? Do you think you can hold your 61-seat mega-majority?

I have mixed feelings about it. The weather forecast is complicated. On the one hand, there’s a lot of very anti-Republican sentiment. … With Donald Trump on the ballot, you have to think that we’re going to do very well. That being said, we also know that there is very much an anti-incumbent tendency out there, and we just have more incumbents than they do. People are very angry around the issue of housing affordability and homelessness. We see that polling everywhere, in every district throughout the state. So I don’t think we can say, “Democrat X is running against Donald Trump” or “running against a Republican.” We have to tell a story about what we’ve done. … Just railing against Donald Trump, I don’t think that’s fair to Californians to do that.

Why?

I’m really impressed with the work that we’ve done … and also because … we have candidates who have incredible qualifications and have had incredible life experiences. You take someone like Thu-Ha Nguyen (challenging GOP Assemblyman Tyler Diep) in Orange County, who’s a cancer researcher, and a mom, and a council member. And I think to reduce all of that to just, “She’s battling Donald Trump,” I think is overly simplistic. And it’s also very—it’s a short horizon. I mean, Donald Trump will be gone someday, and the party needs to stand for something. And we will.

So how do you feel about Gavin Newsom’s approach? He’s been very much framing himself as the leader of the resistance and fighting Trump all the time. How do you feel about that?

That works for him. A lot of what he does is about the resources from the federal government, and that’s a different dynamic. It’s not what I do. It’s not what I’m interested in. But I get why he does it. … Whether it’s high speed rail funds or water—that’s very real for (him).

How do you feel about the landscape for the Democratic presidential nomination?

I haven’t been following it all that closely. … I want to be supportive of a Democrat who could beat Donald Trump.

You were a Kamala Harris supporter early on. So with her out of the race, have you picked a candidate you’re going to endorse?

No … I don’t know if I will. I might. I’ve had Mr. Steyer call me, and the South Bend mayor called me. (Rendon turned to his staff member and asked to be reminded of his name.)

A lot of the policies the Democratic candidates are proposing are things that California is already doing to some degree—like $15 minimum wage, marijuana legalization, carbon pricing and paid family leave. Do you think that the nation wants to be more like California?

The California label is probably not a good thing in a lot of parts of the country for whatever reason. But I think in terms of policy, the state certainly has a story to tell. So I’m not surprised that some of our ideas are being put up there as models to follow. … We’re proud of our economy, and we’re proud of the $15 minimum wage, and all the stuff we’ve done on the environment. And at the same time, how many tens of thousands of people go to sleep every night in this state without a home? And we have long-lasting water problems, quality and supply. We have too many people in prison. So I think it’s important for us as Democrats to be honest. And it is very difficult to do that in election years.

On criminal-justice issues, California has been on a long course of reversing tough-on-crime policies of the past. Do you think the state has gone too far in any way? Or if you think we haven’t gone far enough, what’s left to do?

In our House, we passed the (parolee right to) vote bill. (ACA 6 would allow parolees to vote after they complete their prison sentences, if voters approve.) I’d like to see that get on the ballot and have Californians take a look at that. What we ask for in our society is for people who’ve done bad things to do their time and then become engaged citizens. And as long as you’re not allowing that, then you’re not living up to your principles.

A few months ago, my colleague Dan Morain wrote about the murder your brother-in-law John Lam was an accomplice to 16 years ago. Jerry Brown reduced his sentence, and Gavin Newsom made a final call allowing his release. Have you had any insights on criminal justice issues from this experience in your family?

I have. He was released on Oct. 10th. He’s in transitional housing. And you know, my wife and I are very fortunate. We have resources at our disposal. I’ve been on paternity leave. My wife is self-employed, so we have a lot of time that we can spend with him, and we take him out a lot. … When I pick him up, I sometimes look at the other guys at the home and wonder to what extent they don’t have those things, and what that means for them moving forward. So in the past few months, I’ve thought a lot about the things that we do or don’t do after (someone is released from prison) and the hurdles that people have. That is something that I’ve taken away from the experience.

Looking ahead, what are your priorities for 2020?

No surprise to you or anybody, wildfires and housing affordability/homelessness issues are on everyone’s mind—this sort of unresolved, you know, enigma, that is PG&E and where that goes moving forward.

So on wildfire, what can you do?

It’s a very good question. People (in Northern California) are constantly talking about insurance issues. 

What about on homelessness?

A lot of what we want to do is relating to oversight of the money and the opportunities that we’ve given to local governments. … It’s incumbent upon cities to do something, and it’s incumbent upon us to provide oversight.

Do you anticipate the Legislature responding to pressure from initiatives that are in the process of qualifying for the ballot? Like the challenge from Uber and Lyft on AB 5, the new California law that treats more contract workers as employees—would you pass a law to keep that off the ballot?

I don’t believe we would. I felt as though we were doing a tremendous favor to a lot of people by even addressing that. We could have easily just let it go and let the court ruling stand. I have no interest in getting involved in that. I think we’ve been quite good to those people.

A few years ago, there was a push to do a constitutional amendment asking voters to repeal the Proposition 209 ban (from 1996) on affirmative action. Given the 2020 electorate, do you want that to be something the Legislature does, give that to the voters this year?

I’m glad you brought that up. … I would like to see 209 repealed. That being said, if we are going to get something on the ballot, and get it passed in November, from a political standpoint, it almost seems too late. You have to raise a lot of money. You have to have your ducks lined up. And I haven’t seen that from any of the activist groups that have been talking about that. It’s disappointing that people sometimes seem to want to jam things on the ballot. Good intentions, but (they) don’t go through the very simple political steps of raising money and having a proper coalition to get something passed by voters.

What about a repeal of the death penalty? Would you want to see the Legislature put that on the ballot for the people?

I’ve been opposed to the death penalty for a long time. … But as long as it’s not being carried out (because Newsom halted executions by executive order), there doesn’t seem to be a rush.

Anything you hope will go differently this year in working with Gov. Newsom?

There were some bumps in the road with Gavin early on. At the time, it was hard to contextualize. It was just irritating. But when you think about it, yeah, it makes sense: It’s a whole new team, whole new relationships. So I think things will get better. And I don’t know that we necessarily need to tweak any individual thing. I think it’s just learning people’s tendencies and learning how people like to communicate

One last question: How do you feel about having another Anthony Rendon in L.A.? (A Major League Baseball player by the same name recently left the Washington Nationals for the Los Angeles Angels.)

It’s a lot. After my wife and I had a baby, our first date with a baby sitter was the night he hit a big homerun in Game 6 of the World Series. And I got 69 texts … That includes people who sent texts saying, “Oh, aren’t you glad I’m not sending you another Anthony Rendon text?” That’s included in that total. Just for the record.

What were most of the texts saying?

“Oh, you hit a home run tonight! Ha ha ha.” Oh, so clever. I’ve never heard that one before. I’ve literally been following this guy since he was Freshman of the Year at Rice University. I know he exists. I don’t need another freakin’ person to tell me that he exists.

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