California Sun

Good morning. It's Friday, Oct. 23.

Forecasts call for the strongest winds of the fire season.
Facebook censors dissent to placate a repressive government.
And a journey through the pastel paradise of Long Beach.

Please note: The newsletter is pausing for a long weekend. Back in your inbox on Tuesday.



California froze 350,000 debit cards for unemployment benefits, representing perhaps billions of dollars, over suspicions of fraud. But lawmakers said some legitimate claims were wrongly included in the action. “Again," said Assemblyman David Chiu, "[Employment Development Department] seems unable to address fraud without harming Californians who are depending on them for benefits.” L.A. Times

New unemployment claims are finally falling in California, a result of the state's gradual reopening. S.F. Chronicle


President Trump supporters held a rally in Beverly Hills on Oct. 10.

Kyle Grillot/AFP via Getty Images

California prohibits clothing bearing a candidate's name at polling places. But MAGA hats are OK. That's because, while there is no mistaking their association with President Trump, his name is not included. Some election officials worry Joe Biden supporters will find that unfair. “This particular campaign material is tied to a specific candidate in most voters’ perception,” the registrar of voters in Inyo County said. “And perception is reality. I don’t want my poll workers to have to defend this.” L.A. Times


On this week's California Sun Podcast, host Jeff Schechtman talks with Esther Mobley, the S.F. Chronicle wine critic. Napa and Sonoma counties have faced wildfires before, she said. What made the September Glass fire different was the number of wineries consumed by flames — in all, 27 were significantly damaged. "It is a kind of very alarming, new level of just catastrophe that we've reached," Mobley said.


Northern California


A man accessed the internet at a coffee shop in Hanoi. Facebook is Vietnam's biggest media platform.

Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook has touted itself as a guardian of free speech. Yet the Menlo Park social media giant repeatedly censored voices of political dissent in Vietnam at the request of its authoritarian government. “I think for Zuckerberg the calculus with Vietnam is clear," a former Facebook advisor said. "It’s to maintain service in a country that has a huge population and in which Facebook dominates the consumer internet market, or else a competitor may step in." L.A. Times


In June, a whistleblower leaked screenshots from the private Facebook page for San Jose cops who traded in racist and anti-Muslim commentary. “Black lives don’t really matter,” one officer wrote. Now Santa Clara County's district attorney is dropping charges in 14 cases that hinged on the officers' testimony. A police union dismissed the action as "political grandstanding.” San Jose Inside | Mercury News


A National Weather Service graphic depicting fire danger through Monday.

Northern California, unable to catch a break, now faces perhaps the strongest and most widespread winds of the fire season. Between Sunday and Tuesday, forecasts call for potential gusts of more than 70 mph to whip through a bone-dry landscape. “This is the fire weather forecast I was hoping wouldn't come to pass, given all that has already transpired in 2020,” the climate scientist Daniel Swain wrote on Twitter. Power cutoffs were expected. Sacramento Bee | S.F. Chronicle


A group of gig workers sued Uber for up to $260 million, accusing it of pressuring them to support the company's position on a ballot measure. The drivers said Uber has been sending a “constant barrage” of messages urging them to vote yes on Proposition 22, which would exempt the company from having to classify drivers as employees. Washington Post | CNN

A California appeals court on Thursday upheld a ruling requiring Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees. The companies are now pinning their hopes on the ballot box — or an appeal to the California Supreme Court. N.Y. Times | The Verge


Southern California


In 2004, a nonfatal shooting led to two Black teenagers being sentenced to 11 consecutive life sentences. Dupree Glass and Juan Rayford maintained their innocence, and multiple witnesses later came forward to say neither teen had opened fire. Earlier this year, an appellate court vacated their sentence. But even though prosecutors knew of serious questions about the case for years, they refused to review it. L.A. Times


A homeless encampment in downtown Los Angeles on May 21.

Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images

The CDC advises against dispersing homeless encampments during the pandemic. Even so, Los Angeles resumed sweeps that force tent dwellers to be constantly on the move. A documentary crew followed a volunteer with "Services Not Sweeps" as she helped homeless people, often in frail condition, pack up their belongings while sanitation workers hovered nearby. The Intercept (~10 mins)


The French photographer Franck Bohbot has been hailed for elevating ordinary scenes into high art. For his latest series, he turned his lens on Long Beach. To scroll through the images is to journey into a dreamworld where the colors are pastel and the worries are washed away.

See a few selections below, and many more here. 👉 Behance |


Today I learned


A brown haze hung in the air off the eastern coast of China in 2009.


China is a significant contributor to air pollution in California. Toxins from Chinese smokestacks catch a ride across the Pacific on powerful global winds that can deposit them in California in a matter of days. A 2010 study found that nearly a third of airborne lead collected from two sites in the San Francisco Bay Area had originated in Asia.

Another paper, published in 2014, added a twist to the story: About a fifth of the smog being produced in China is associated with goods destined for export to the U.S. The researchers’ conclusion: China may play a part in worsening pollution in the western U.S., but American demand for cheap products is fueling the pollution in the first place. Smithsonian Magazine


In case you missed it


Five items that got big views over the past week:

Lonely Planet published a list of California's 10 greatest hikes. Included is the Rings Loop Trail, pictured above, in Mojave National Preserve. Less than 2 miles, it winds along petroglyphs, wide-open desert views, and a narrow canyon with sculptured volcanic walls.
A pair of Southern California college students wanted to create a simple and impartial guide to the 12 statewide ballot propositions. The result is this great scorecard of recommendations by California newspapers and other groups. 👉
A Long Beach filmmaker made a hypnotic little film showing skaters in their 40s cruising along the streets of Southern California and beyond. It makes a compelling case for skateboarding as a fountain of youth. Vimeo (~4 mins)
It’s been described as a “glowing pillar of fire” and a “psychedelic asparagus.” Here's a fascinating introduction to the snow plant of the high Sierra, including footage of a hummingbird darting among its brilliant red petals. 👉 YouTube (7:30 mins)
At the edge of Joshua Tree is a lone dwelling that seems to melt into the desert. Known as the Invisible House, it was designed to look like a New York skyscraper lying on its side. See pictures. 👉 dezeen | Plain Magazine

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The California Sun is written by Mike McPhate, a former California correspondent for the New York Times.

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