CVIndependent

Tue05262020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Today was the day my sadness turned to anger.

I don’t know if this is a stages-of-grief thing, or whether it was just the news of the day, or maybe a little bit of both. Whatever the cause, after weeks of feeling more sadness than anything else regarding the pandemic, today, I’m pissed.

The thing that set me off was the news that after a few short weeks, all of the small-business-loan stimulus loan money is gone, at least for now. That’s $349 billion, so long, goodbye. The $10 billion in disaster loans is gone, too.

Then there is the news that hedge funds—yes, hedge funds—are applying for and getting some of this money—money, that according to the name of the program, is supposed to protect paychecks.

“Ironically, hedge funds are designed to employ as few people as possible so star traders don’t have to share millions of dollars in fees. The industry gets its name from the premise it can generate gains even when markets fall,” says the Bloomberg news story.

It’s also worth remembering that the president fired the inspector general who was supposed to watch over all this money, among other moves the executive branch made to limit oversight of how this taxpayer money was being spent.

Then I read a story about the parent company of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, which has 5,000 employees, getting $20 million in Paycheck Protection Program money. Wait … wasn’t the Paycheck Protection Program supposed to help smaller businesses?

“The loans were intended for businesses with fewer than 500 employees, but language in the $2 trillion stimulus bill allows restaurants and hotel chains to participate regardless of how many people they employ,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, many local restaurant owners I know are wailing on social media that they haven’t received a dime yet.

Folks, the virus is bad enough. The fact that first our president fired the pandemic response team a couple years ago, then constantly downplayed the threat before it was too late, and is now doing everything in his power to lessen oversight of an unbelievably shitty and ineffective stimulus bill has me livid.

People are scared and dying. Businesses are dying. Meanwhile, instead of trying to ease fears or show empathy for his sick and/or frightened constituents, Donald Trump is tweeting falsehoods about political rivals and continuing his assaults on the media.

It doesn’t matter what your politics are—the ineptitude of the federal government should have everyone furious right now.

Today’s links:

• Earlier today, before my mood when to crap, I was again was part of the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast with Dr. Laura Rush, with guest David Perry. Thankfully, Dr. Rush is optimistic about things.

• Remember what we said earlier about federal-government ineptitude? That, alas, extends to the Treasury Department and the IRS regarding getting stimulus funds to a whole lot of people who need help.

• Remember what we said earlier about federal government ineptitude … again? Check out this quote, from The Washington Post, about the effort to find effective treatments in the U.S.: “It’s a cacophony—it’s not an orchestra. There’s no conductor. My heart aches over the complete chaos in the response.”

• As if this wasn’t all scary enough, it appears COVID-19 is causing serious neurological problems in some people, according to this pants-wetting article from Wired.

• Oh great! Time Magazine reports that other countries’ militaries are messing around with us at this time when the U.S. is focusing on the coronavirus.

• Oh great! The rate of testing in the country is actually slowing down, according to Politico—even though commercial labs aren’t at full capacity.

• In California, like much of the rest of the country, COVID-19 is taking a disproportionately large toll on African-Americans.

Chef Thomas Keller has been one of the leading voices in the fight to get insurance companies to pay restaurants who have business-interruption insurance. Here’s his direct take, via NBC News.

• OK, let’s take a happier turn toward some hopeful signs: Some neighboring counties plan to start letting some businesses reopen later next month, per the Los Angeles Times.

• A recent update from Eisenhower Health shares good news on the medical side, and not-so-good news on the financial side.

• Armistead Maupin, the San Francisco author whose Tales of the City have delighted people for decades, is reading stories from his new home in London several times per week.

That’s all we have for today. Please make sure your virtual events are included in our online calendar. If you can spare a few bucks, and value independent, quality local journalism, please consider becoming a supporter of the Independent, since we’re clearly not getting any small-business loans anytime soon. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you go out into public. Be safe. Back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Today is Jackie Robinson Day, the anniversary of Robinson taking the field in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947—shattering the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

Robinson’s uniform number, 42, was retired throughout Major League Baseball back in 1997, with one exception: On April 15, every player wears the No. 42.

For all sorts of reasons, Jackie Robinson Day means a lot to me. Robinson is the main reason I became a baseball fan (and a Dodgers fan); at one point in elementary school, I was assigned to read a biography, and somehow, I wound up with Jackie Robinson. I was inspired—and Jackie Robinson has been a hero of mine ever since. In fact, a poster with Jackie’s photo, with the definition of the word “courage,” hangs just to the right of the unbelievably cluttered desk at my home office.

cour•age n. 1. The mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty. 2. Valor.

Of course, Jackie Robinson Day can be celebrated only virtually today, because there is no baseball in this country on this April 15.

Please forgive me for feeling a bit sad right now. I am keeping things in proper mental perspective. Take, for example, what Jackie Robinson had to endure on a daily basis back in 1947, when he was literally risking his life to play baseball—and carrying the burden of knowing that if he failed, either on the field or off, he could potentially set back a whole movement. Me? I merely have to stay at home for a while, wear a mask when I have to go somewhere, and tighten the budget belt for a bit.

That’s what my mind says. But my heart aches due to the fact that there’s no baseball on Jackie Robinson Day, nor will there be anytime in the immediate future. (The same goes for a lot of things, of course.)

For now, I’ll suck it up, maybe cry a little, and remember that definition of courage: the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.

Here are today’s links:

• You know those antibody tests that are starting to appear? They’re not necessarily reliable right now. The nice way of putting it: “They’re a work in progress.”

• From the Independent: Anita Rufus points out that not only should you consider setting up an advance directive (living will) if you don’t have one; if you do have one, you may want to revisit it, given what we now know about COVID-19.

• Also from the Independent: Our Kevin Carlow encourages you to cut down on food waste by pickling or otherwise preserving vegetables before they go bad. And yes, you can even use the ends, stems and skins that you’d normally throw away.

• Speaking of vegetables, all of this uncertainty is leading people to start growing their own food.

• The state is taking better steps to get help to people who have not yet gotten their unemployment, plus independent contractors and undocumented immigrants, according to Gov. Newsom.

• The Washington Post reports on the strategy being developed by FEMA and the CDC to begin reopening the country. Take from it what you will.

• So … the president apparently insists on having his name on the physical stimulus checks being sent to people, even if it delays them being sent by a few days. Now, where did I put that bourbon?

Some government agencies are not being as open with information as they should be during this damned pandemic. This is a very bad thing.

• Now this, actually, would not be a bad thing, if 1) true and 2) it’s shown that most infected people have at least temporary immunity: One study suggests that there may be 10 times more COVID-19 cases in California than the number being reported. However, a lot of smart people don’t buy this conclusion.

• You know that thing going around on social media where people post their high school pics and say where and when they graduated, ostensibly to support current high school seniors who won’t get proper senior years and graduations? Uh, well, you probably shouldn’t do that.

• Rolling Stone looks in depth at the deep damage the pandemic is doing to the live-music world.

• Damn, the lockdown is even driving Martha Stewart to get hammered.

• The city of Palm Springs has set up a hotline for people to report violations of various COVID-19-related rules.

• OK, let’s get to some happier stuff, shall we? For starters, the Los Angeles Times offers up this list of 13 things you can do to stay sane during this highly annoying time.

• Jake Tapper has a Twitter-thread story that starts awful, but has a hopeful, happy ending.

• Finally, I find this oddly reassuring, even though they never, ever should have budged on “over” being an OK substitute for “more than”: The Associated Press Stylebook now has guidance on COVID-19.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Submit your virtual events to our online calendar. Please help us continue to do local, quality journalism, free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means to do so. Wear a mask when you must go out in public—if not because it’s the right thing to do, then because someone may call the city of Palm Springs and report your irresponsible self. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's stimulus-check-fortified weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World ponders whether the GOP is a death cult, in the latest installment of Life in the Coronaverse; Jen Sorensen wishes U.S. Supreme Court justices had to take the same risks as Wisconsin voters; The K Chronicles offers up some delicious coronavirus cuisine; Red Meat wonders whether a meteor strike is next; and Apoca Clips has an exclusive sneak peak at Li'l Trumpy's new movie.

Published in Comics

Another work day has passed without me getting any work done.

Actually … that’s not accurate—in fact, other than a break for my physical therapy appointment, I’ve been toiling at my desk all darned day. So let me restate: Another work day has passed without me getting any newspapering done.

I have at least a half-dozen stories in the figurative hopper to edit and post. I have a couple of calls to make for a story I am working on myself. I need to start laying out the Coachella Valley Independent Coloring Book—which is going to be unbelievably cool, by the way—so we can put it on sale Friday. And I have some stuff on the sales-side I need to do, especially since the deadline for our May print edition is sneaking up next week. (Hey, wanna buy an ad? Drop me a line.)

But other than that pathetic parenthetical sales pitch to conclude that last paragraph, and this Daily Digest, no newspapering got done today. Instead, I participated in a conference all with other publishers on how they’re dealing with this mess. I tried, without success, to figure out how in the hell to finish applying for an SBA loan. And I spent a whole lot of time applying for more grants.

I speak for all other small-business owners trying to keep the lights on during this mess when I say: Bleh.

So … tomorrow, I have decided, I will ignore loan applications for a day. I will eschew all conference calls. And I will just edit and write and layout and sell and yay.

One other thing I’ll do: I’ll count my blessings. I know I am one of the lucky ones. I am healthy; I am safe; I have purpose; I have a fridge full of food. If you’re feeling annoyed, or down, or frustrated, I recommend you take stock, and think of the blessings you have.

Also, as we’ve said before in this space: We’re going to get through this. It’s going to take longer than any of us would like, and a complete return to a COVID-19-free existence is probably going to take much longer than any of us would like. But we’re in the midst of what should be the worst of it right now, and we’re at least surviving, right?

Hang in there, folks. And watch CVIndependent.com and this space for all sorts of excellent copy tomorrow.

Today’s links:

• The big news of the day: Gov. Newsom laid out his vague, no-timeline-yet “road to recovery” for the state. It’s vague, and it’s depressing, and a lot of things need to happen, but take some solace in the fact that we’re at least able to talk about steps toward reopening California. Right?

• The other big news of the day: The president says he’s going to halt U.S. funding of the World Health Organization. Yes, he’s doing this in the middle of a pandemic. No, nothing makes sense anymore.

Stimulus deposits are starting to show up in bank accounts. If yours hasn’t arrived yet, CNN explains when you can expect it, and how you can check on its status.

• Oh, and because things are terrible, the feds aren’t stopping banks and debt collectors from seizing those stimulus checks.

• This is sort of a worst-case scenario, so take this with a large grain of salt: This social distancing crap could last until 2022 if we don’t develop a vaccine. Or an effective treatment. Or etc.

The Los Angeles Times talked to a UCLA epidemiologist and infectious-disease expert about the prospects of reopening California. It’s an interesting piece, with this key takeaway: “Evolutionarily speaking, it’s to the virus’ benefit to mutate where it’s even more contagious but less deadly ‘because it doesn’t do the virus any good to kill its human host to be able to transmit.’” So, we should root for mutations, I guess?

• Example No. 138,936 of how truly little we know about this damned coronavirus: It appears that simply positioning some patients on their stomachs rather than their backs can make a big difference in recovery success.

• Example No. 138,937 of how truly little we know about this damned coronavirus: We don’t even know how far COVID-19 can travel in “aerosolized droplets.” Two thoughts: 1) Sigh. 2). Ew.

• Some local small-business news: Lulu California Bistro, one of the valley’s biggest restaurants, will be open for takeout business starting Thursday. And to raise funds to support employees, the Mary Pickford Theatre in Cathedral City will be selling popcorn and other movie-theater treats on Friday and Saturday for pickup.

• The Conversation brings us this piece from an Oberlin professor of sociology pointing out that the pandemic may prove to be fatal to many communities’ gay bars.

• Speaking of depressing-if-unsurprising news for the LGBT community: San Francisco Pride has officially been cancelled.

Major League Baseball is participating in a study that will test up to 10,000 people for coronavirus antibodies—but this is just for science, and won’t help the game return any faster, according to ESPN.

• This has nothing to do with COVID-19 at all, but screw it: Here’s how to make shot glasses out of bacon and chocolate.

That’s all for now. Submit your online event info to our calendar here. Thank you to all of you who have become Supporters of the Independent recently; if you’d like to join them in helping us to continue doing what we do, find details here. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you absolutely must leave home. More tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's face-mask-wearing weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat is worried about gaining weight while being stuck at home; Apoca Clips gets Li'l Trumpy's thoughts on face masks and his "resolute desk"; The K Chronicles wishes he'd appreciated toilet paper sooner; This Modern World ponders Donald Trump's pandemic management style; and Jen Sorensen yearns to flatten the crazy curve.

Published in Comics

It’s been a crazy-busy day here at Independent World Headquarters in rainy downtown Palm Springs—for some very exciting reasons.

Because the day has been so busy, and because there’s so much news to get to—much, but alas, not all of it, good—I am going to keep this intro brief. And tomorrow, I’ll share the exciting news—I promise.

Today’s links:

• Regular readers know we don’t focus too much on the numbers and stats here, for two reasons: First, the numbers don’t always tell the full story; and two, you can get the numbers everywhere else. However, here are the countywide numbers. And now, the full story, courtesy of resident expert Dr. Laura Rush: “You all are doing great here in Coachella Valley so far. And we are coming up on eight days with no doubling of cases yet. No new cases in PS last 24 hours. … Keep it up; it’s working!” So, keep staying at home and wearing masks and #flatteningthecurve!

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: Gov. Newson has touted reliable COVID-19 antibody testing as a key to helping California get back to something resembling normal. However, that’s not as easy to accomplish as it sounds.

Eisenhower Health posted a fantastic update on Facebook yesterday, detailing all the numbers and information regarding how the hospital is faring during the COVID-19 crisis. While there are a lot of big numbers, there’s also a lot of encouraging news within.

• Excellent news: The Desert AIDS Project has started telephone and drive-up COVID-19 screening. Get the details here.

• Former Independent wine columnist (and good friend) Christine Soto has joined forces with all sorts of other amazing people to found Keep Shining Palm Springs, “a fund helping the hands that feed, imbibe and provide for us—small business in Palm Springs and beyond. Learn more about the fundraiser—which includes some really awesome apparel—here.

• The IRS is warning everyone about scammers emerging as the stimulus money starts to arrive in people’s bank accounts. Here’s what to be aware of, via the AARP.

• Speaking of shady dealings: The Conversation points out how government agencies are using the pandemic as an excuse to keep more things secret—and this is a very bad thing.

• And speaking of shady dealings and very bad things and government secrecy: The president has canned the person responsible for overseeing how the Trump administration spends the trillions of dollars in pandemic relief money.

• And speaking of … well, all that stuff above, this story from the Los Angeles Times explains how “the federal government is quietly seizing orders, leaving medical providers across the country in the dark about where the material is going and how they can get what they need to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.” Yikes!

• Your Women’s Circle, a fantastic local business group that connects lesbians to lesbian-owned businesses, has launched a hotline for local lesbians in need of assistance. Learn more here.

• The city of Palm Springs is holding a town hall webinar “for local residents impacted by COVID-19, featuring information on worker benefits and resources related to tenant rights, mortgage relief, evictions, unemployment benefits, utility relief, food and local volunteer resources,” at 9 a.m., Thursday, April 9. Register here.

• College of the Desert would like to remind you of its Partnership and Community Education program, where you can take relatively inexpensive online classes—and do some learnin’!

• Stay-at-home parents and guardians who are dealing with stressed-out kids, or who are struggling to explain what’s going on to their young ones: Check out this fantastic resource library from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Apps that anonymously track the spread of coronavirus have been used successfully in other countries—and could help us get back to normal here. But there are privacy concerns, as you may expect. NBC News explains.

• June’s Splash House, to nobody’s surprise, is cancelled. However, former Independent scribe Brian Blueskye explains in The Desert Sun that organizers are holding out hope for the two scheduled August weekends.

Lady Gaga is doing some cool things. Not only is she helping arrange a worldwide virtual music festival for April 18; she’s raised $35 million in a week for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

• We have reached the “Let’s get weird!” portion of the Daily Digest. First off, this headline from the Los Angeles Times: “How a Discovery That Brought Us Viagra Could Help Those Battling the Coronavirus.” (It’s actually a fascinating story on how nitric oxide is being used as an experimental COVID-19 treatment.)

• The hubby sent me this link with this comment: “Art Museum for Gerbils.” ‘Nuff said.

That’s it for today! Get us your submission for the Coachella Valley Independent coloring book project. If you’re able and appreciate what we do, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep doing what we do—honest, reliable local journalism. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

I think I speak for all of us when I ask the question: How long is all of this going to going on?!

The only correct answer, of course, is that nobody knows. Nobody. We’ve never dealt with a worldwide crisis like this during the information age. We’ve never had so many smart, qualified people working on fixing a problem at the same time. And we’ve never before seen such rapid devastation—both in terms of health and the economy—strike the entire world, all at once.

Every day, there’s good news that offers hope—including hints that treating COVID-19 patients with plasma from people who have recovered may just help treat those who are still sick.

And every day, there’s news that’s alarming—such as today’s revelation that, good lord, tigers are getting it from humans now?!

Sigh.

Anyway … some news yesterday that has local implications regarding this question of “How damned long?” went a little under the radar. It all started with a call that President Trump had with representatives of most of the major sports leagues and operations in the country. Sources say Trump said he thought the NFL season should be able to start, with fans in stadiums, on time this year. What does on time mean? Pre-season games start in August, with the regular season starting Sept. 10.

Trump elaborated later yesterday during his daily briefing, according to ESPN: “I want fans back in the arenas. I think it’s ... whenever we’re ready. As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air.”

Putting aside Trump’s, um, credibility problem (to put it mildly), I think we can all agree that we really, really want all of that, too, if it’s safe. But … will it be?

Later yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom was asked about Trump’s hopes that society could handle 80,000 people packed into a stadium in August or September. The first words out of his mouth were rather direct: “I'm not anticipating that happening in this state.”

Newsom then sort-of backtracked, but not really, by clarifying that decisions “will be determined by the facts, will be determined by the health experts,” and that he was focusing immediate concerns. Newsom also said he wanted California to avoid the fate of some Asian countries, which seemed to “return to normal” a bit too soon.

As for that local angle … well, our friends at Gay Desert Guide have done a fantastic job of listing the dates that the valley’s biggest events (not just the gay-themed ones) are now scheduled/rescheduled for, and … well, here’s the thing: If we are in a place by the start of September where we can have larger crowds at things, this valley could have one hell of a fall, in terms of an economic boost. Starting with the ANA Inspiration golf tourney (Sept. 10-13), and moving through Dinah Shore Weekend, Coachella’s two weekends, the Modernism Week Fall Preview, Stagecoach, the White Party and Palm Springs Pride (Nov. 6-8), we could see two fall months the likes of which the Coachella Valley has never seen.

But if Gov. Newsom’s right about September, and likely October and November … you get the point.

Even if Newsom is right, that doesn’t mean we won’t be a lot closer to “normal” by then. After all, one of the last things we’ll be able to do is let 80,000 people into a stadium together. Of course, the same goes for letting 125,000 people into the Empire Polo Club together.

To repeat one more time: We really don’t have any idea how long this is going to go on. And that may be one of the most frustrating aspects of the pandemic.

Today’s news:

• Hey, artists: Take part in our coloring book project—and earn a few bucks while doing so. The deadline is this coming Friday afternoon; get the full details here.

• The big news: Riverside County now says you can’t have any gatherings at all. And you have to wear a face mask when you go out.

• Gov. Newsom says California is making progress on its COVID-19 backlog—and he took responsibility, unlike some other leaders, for missteps.

• Hooray: Palm Springs has enacted an evictions moratorium.

• Making lemonade out of really awful lemons: All of this working from home has given the creators of The Office an idea for a new show.

• When students from different backgrounds get to a college campus, socioeconomic differences can seemingly melt away, when everyone’s living in the same dorms and eating the same food. But inequity can get magnified when all of the classes go online.

• CBS News got some advice from Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and George Takei on how to handle all of this pandemic stuff.

• A TV news station in Cleveland has introduced a helpful new feature for those of us who may be losing track of the days of the week.

• The Los Angeles Times brings us this sad but important story about the increase in calls to suicide hotlines. Sigh.

• You know times are tough when a rare address from the Queen of England is making me weepy.

That’s enough for now. If you have the means, and appreciate the free-to-all journalism the Independent does, both in print and pixels, please consider helping us to continue to do it. Thanks for reading. Oh, and wash your hands, and make the best of this coming week.

Published in Daily Digest

Welcome to the first-ever Coachella Valley Independent Daily Digest. The goal for this Daily Digest is to round up reliable, vetted news related to COVID-19 and the accompanying societal changes. There’s too much unreliable information floating around on social media (and even coming out of some elected officials’ mouths)—and in this space, we'll sort through it all to get to truthfulness and sanity.

In addition to news updates, we’ll also highlight good things happening—specials from local businesses (that REALLY need your support right now), enlightening comments from members of the community, and so on. Please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have anything you think should be included.

And with that ... here's the news.

• As we were getting close to clicking send on this, the Palm Springs Unified School District announced it would be closing schools the next two weeks. They're moving up Spring Break, essentially. Parents are receiving this message right now: "Hello PSUSD families. This is Supt. Sandy Lyon. I wanted to provide you with an update on the coronavirus situation as it relates to our District. You may be aware that over the past day, there has been an increase in the number of confirmed cases here in the Coachella Valley, and there are a number of tests pending that could result in several other confirmed cases. Additionally, both the Riverside County Department of Health and Governor Newsom issued a directive to suspend gatherings of over 250 people. As a result, Palm Springs Unified School District is moving its two-week spring break. It will begin on Monday, March 16."

• Eisenhower Medical Center announced earlier today that visitors will no longer be allowed at EMC for the time being. More on what EMC is doing to protect the community can be found here.

• As of this writing, local theaters have made a split decision on whether to stay open or not. While Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, Coyote StageWorks and the Desert Rose Playhouse have cancelled or postponed shows this weekend, Palm Canyon Theatre, CVRep and Desert TheatreWorks are letting the shows go on. Read more about this in the second installment in the Independent's Pandemic Stories series tomorrow (Saturday).

As for that first Pandemic Stories installment: Kevin Fitzgerald talked to the owner of Piero's PizzaVino about the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tourney, and how that devastated her and her staff. Piero's is one of the few local restaurants to have a pop-up location at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, alongside big names like Nobu and Spago.

• As for closures and cancellations: The Palm Springs Gay Softball league has suspended practices and play through March, and the national NAGAAA Cup tourney the league was hosting at the end of March is cancelled. Other recent cancellations/closures include the Palm Desert Food and Wine fest, all Certified Farmers Markets through at least March 30 (though the Palm Springs Cultural Center remains open for now), the Palm Springs Library (though the Palm Desert Library remains open), and shockingly, The Abbey down in West Hollywood.

• From our partners at CalMatters: As the coronavirus toll rises, so do concerns about health-care workers' safety.

• Earlier today, President Trump declared a national emergency. The press conference was ... well, fascinating. At one point, after Trump said he didn't take any responsibility for the pandemic, a reporter from PBS asked him about his firing of the national pandemic response team. His response was that he didn't do it, and that this was a "nasty question." As for that firing, Snopes says it's true that it happened.

• Support local businesses! If you're comfortable with going out (while taking all the precautions that you should be), local bars and restaurants need you right now. If not, order food from a local restaurant on GrubHub or one of the apps!

• Alternately, consider buying gift cards from local businesses. Some places are offering 20 percent bonuses.

• If you found this email helpful, forward to a friend, or have them email us and we'll add them to the list. Please consider supporting the Independent, too ... we could use it!

Until tomorrow ... stay safe; support local business, and wash your hands!

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's hand-sanitizer-hoarding weekly Independent comics page: (Th)ink reassures America that Donald Trump has the corona thing covered; This Modern World features a visit from Invisible Hand of the Free Market Man; Jen Sorensen ponders conservative doppelgangers; Apoca Clips gets Li'l Trumpy's thoughts on the coronavirus; and Red Meat lets the kids pretend to be bank robbers.

Published in Comics

In September 1918, hundreds of men stationed at an overcrowded U.S. Army base 30 miles west of Boston began showing up at the hospital. Their faces, the director of the surgeon general’s Office of Communicable Diseases would report, “wore a bluish cast; a cough brought up the bloodstained sputum.”

Experts recommended that no one from that base—Camp Devens—be transferred. Doing so, Army doctors warned, would lead to “thousands of cases of the disease, with many deaths.” They were overruled. The war was too important. On the trans-Atlantic voyage to the front, thousands got sick, and many died.

The so-called Spanish flu killed many more Americans than did World War I: 675,000 to 117,000. The disease infected up to 40 percent of the world’s population and killed between 50 million and 100 million people, about two-thirds of them in a 10-week span between September and December of 1918; the war itself killed about 20 million people.

Though its origin is unknown, the first reported case was in Kansas in March 1918. Other early cases surfaced in France and China. But the U.S., France and China were at war, and their governments restricted what newspapers could publish. Only when the king, prime minister and cabinet officials of the neutral Spain caught the virus did news of its spread get broadcast worldwide—hence, the misnomer “Spanish flu.”

The Woodrow Wilson administration urged Americans not to take it too seriously. In mid-October, the surgeon general finger-wagged: “The present generation has been spoiled by having had expert medical and nursing care readily available.”

Even as the body count rose to unfathomable levels—in New York City, the flu killed 20,000 in 10 weeks; in Philadelphia, priests drove carts through the streets asking people to bring out their dead—the government suppressed the scope of the crisis, fearing that panic would undermine the war effort. That led to still more deaths. For example, Philadelphia scheduled a march to promote war bonds for late September. Doctors warned the city to cancel. The city’s newspapers declined to publish the warnings. The march was a huge success.

Within four weeks, 47,000 Philadelphians came down with the flu; 12,000 of them died.

The coronavirus pandemic 102 years later doesn’t appear to be nearly as deadly. As I write this, the virus has infected 90,000 people, mostly in China, and has caused more than 3,000 deaths. While the rate of growth in China appears to be declining, it is spreading rapidly elsewhere, particularly in Europe and across Asia.

In the United Kingdom, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned that up to 80 percent of the UK’s population could become infected, and a half-million Britons could die. He hasn’t ruled out taking drastic measures, including locking down entire cities, to contain the virus.

But like Wilson, President Trump doesn’t want you to take it too seriously. A fearmongering backseat driver during the Ebola outbreak of 2014, the world’s most famous germaphobe will face voters in the midst of his own public health crisis—and with little public credibility as currency to spend. Further complicating things, his go-to solution—travel bans from afflicted countries—won’t stave off the spread. Trump’s immediate concern is that the stock market had its worst week since the 2008 crash; some economists are starting to toss around the R-word, which could be fatal in November.

Trump’s priority is to calm markets by projecting control amid dysfunction. As always, there’s a lot of dysfunction.

Last month, the State Department overruled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and brought back 14 infected cruise-ship passengers from Japan on the same plane as non-infected people. The CDC’s restrictive criteria for identifying potential coronavirus cases and faulty diagnostic tests have likely led to a deceptively low number of positive results. According to a Department of Health and Human Services whistleblower, a dozen DHHS employees were sent to meet the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, without protective gear or training. And over HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s objections, the administration asked Congress for a paltry $2.5 billion in emergency funds—it didn’t want to signal a real crisis.

The optics-focused Trump, meanwhile, was reportedly enraged that a CDC official—Rod Rosenstein’s sister, so cue the conspiracy theories—said the virus’s spread across the U.S. was inevitable.

At a press conference last week, Trump announced that he was appointing Vice President Mike Pence the head of his coronavirus task force—evidently because he feared that an outside czar might be disloyal. Pence, as governor of Indiana, badly botched his state’s handling of an AIDS flare-up. His first order of business was a mandate that that no one comment on the coronavirus without his office’s approval.

Minutes before that press conference, Trump learned that the CDC had uncovered the first U.S. case of coronavirus not tied to foreign travel, the sign of its impending spread. He didn’t mention that, though. Instead, he assured the American people that it would all be over soon and praised his administration’s response.

“And again, when you have 15 people—and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero—that’s a pretty good job we’ve done,” he said.

The next night, he offered a self-contradictory take: “It’s going to disappear. One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear. And from our shores, we—you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.” The night after that, in South Carolina, he told his supporters that Democrats had politicized the pandemic and that “this is their new hoax.”

The next day, the first American died from coronavirus. The day after that, the second one did. As of this morning (March 4), the U.S. had at least 129 known coronavirus cases.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International