In the shadow of war, a struggle for life

KYIV, UKRAINE — Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, both Ukraine and Russia have struggled to confront a regional HIV epidemic fueled largely by the recreational use of intravenous drugs and shared syringes. Ukraine and Russia have some of the highest infection rates outside the African continent, and 3 out of every 4 new HIV diagnoses in Europe happen in the two countries.

In the Donbas region, in addition to having their cities bombed and besieged, Ukrainians with HIV have seen many of their doctors leave and had their access to life-saving anti-retroviral medication threatened. Moreover, parts of the treatment model that Ukraine and international aid organizations implemented post-independence have been replaced with the Russian model favored by the new men in charge. That model hasn’t changed significantly since Soviet times. — The Desert Sun

Outside this mountain getaway town, a wildfire burned 13,000 acres last summer. The effects still reverberate a year later.

On Mount San Jacinto, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine trees once stretched into the blue skies. Below, where manzanita and chapparal used to blanket the hills and canyons, now stands patches of frail, dead trees encrusted with charred, black bark.

It’s been a year since nine small fires set by an arsonist equipped with only a barbecue lighter and a can of WD-40 coalesced into a fire U.S. Forest Service Commander Matt Ahearn said firefighters immediately knew would be difficult to contain.

On July 25, 2018, the Cranston Fire tore through swaths of the San Bernardino National Forest and Mount San Jacinto State Park. Its flames roared up the mountain, jumping highways, spewing black smoke and growing so large and hot the fire created its own weather system. The heat from the blazes mixed with moisture and smoke plumes to form pyrocumulonimbus lightning clouds — the “fire breathing dragon of clouds.”

The fire ultimately forced more than 7,000 area residents to evacuate using two narrow roads leading out of Idyllwild, Pine Cove and Mountain Center. – The Desert Sun

As fire season starts, roads remain washed out and Idyllwild ponders its escape routes

The Inn had a wedding scheduled for the weekend. A bridge and groom had arrived just as White heard authorities beginning to close roads.

He knocked on their door, and they agreed to help him prepare to evacuate. As they were turning off propane tanks, Christina Reitz, the Idyllwild fire chief’s wife, pulled up in her truck and asked White and his guests what they were still doing in town, telling them they needed to evacuate immediately.

“At that point, the town was full of smoke. There were sirens and the atmosphere seemed like a war scene,” White remembered.

White made sure all his guests had evacuated before leaving. By that time, the California Highway Patrol had closed two of the three routes off of the mountain and a line of cars was backing up on Highway 243 — the only remaining route out of Idyllwild. — USA TODAY

Copycat Legislation: think tank-written ‘Right to Try’ legislation passes through 41 statehouses

From 2013 to 2017, the policy thinktank named after conservative icon and five-term Senator Barry Goldwater sponsored “Right to Try” bills in statehouses throughout the country, including bills in California.

And after 41 state legislatures passed “Right to Try” bills, Congress passed its own in 2018.

The Desert Sun identified “Right to Try” legislation as part of a USA TODAY analysis that matched language in “model legislation” against bills introduced in all 50 states and Congress.

The analysis of nearly 1 million bills introduced between 2010 and 2018 identified bills authored by corporations, interest groups and lobbyists. “Copycat legislation” has become commonplace in legislatures throughout the country; more than 10,000 bills were copied and pasted almost entirely, and more than 2,100 of those were passed and signed into law. – The Desert Sun / USA TODAY

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer joins inland California’s clean water fight

Tom Steyer, the billionaire philanthropist and Democratic Party donor, took a break from trying to impeach President Donald Trump on Friday to visit the eastern Coachella Valley and learn about the water quality issues plaguing the region’s residents.

Steyer joined a delegation of local and state leaders on a tour of areas that have, for years, lacked clean drinking water, including a Thermal elementary school whose water source is an old, unreliable well. And while his efforts may not seem connected, Steyer said opposing the president’s agenda and pursuing impeachment stemmed from the same motivations that inform his environmental advocacy about issues including ensuring access to clean drinking water. – Desert Sun

London patient revealed as cured joins Palm Springs man, who was the first

Timothy Ray Brown was standing next to his doctor, Gero Hütter, as they waited for an elevator at a Berlin hospital in August 2006. The elevator dinged, and the opening door sounded as if it sighed. They stepped in as Brown processed the news Hütter just delivered: there could be a cure that would address Brown’s HIV and leukemia simultaneously.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’” said Brown. “It was like a fantasy idea that I wouldn’t have to worry about HIV again.”

But it wasn’t a fantasy. The Palm Springs resident, now 52, would become known to the world as the Berlin patient.

Now, more than a decade after Brown became the first person cured of HIV in May 2007, a patient in London has reportedly been cured by a bone-marrow transplant as well. The London patient has yet to speak publicly but Brown said he already feels a deep connection with him. – Desert Sun, with Nicole Hayden

Bird scooters: traffic and climate change disruptors or toys for privileged urbanites?

Only three days after Bird Co. dropped off hundreds of sleek black stand-up electric scooters early in the morning, city government issued a cease-and-desist order then took the surprise, two-wheeled Birds captive.

With its more than 10 million e-scooters, Bird is the latest cash-rich tech startup aiming to disrupt traditional modes of transportation and Palm Springs was hardly the first city subjected to a surprise avian invasion.

Eight years after Uber first launched in San Francisco without permission from the city, Bird and its competitors are instigating the latest battles between cities and tech startups. In cities throughout California and elsewhere, the company has taken a page from Uber’s playbook, frequently deploying its e-scooters without warning, sending city governments reeling to try and regulate them and then only later attempting to negotiate the terms of their presence.– Desert Sun

Chad Bianco elected in heated Riverside County Sheriff’s race

In January, there will be a new sheriff in town.

With 100 percent of Riverside County precincts reporting, Lt. Chad Bianco defeated 11-year incumbent Sheriff Stan Sniff in a heated intra-agency struggle for control of the county’s expansive law enforcement agency.

The ambiance was akin to a tailgate. Supporters of the incoming sheriff wore Bianco t-shirts, collared shirts and trucker hats, drinking beers and eating tacos while a classic rock soundtrack blared on the speakers in the airplane hangar where the party took place. Partygoers said Bianco’s candidacy had engaged them in politics like never before.

Bianco’s 2018 bid enjoyed hefty financial backing from police unions including the Riverside Sheriffs Association, which funneled more than $850,000 into his campaign coffers.–Desert Sun (other election night stories about Congress, State Senate, State Assembly, Propositions)

California’s most expensive proposition battle pits kidney dialysis providers against unions

Supporters and opponents of Proposition 8, the “Fair Pricing for Dialysis Act,” have contributed almost $120 million during the 2018 campaign season. The state’s largest kidney dialysis providers — including industry giants Davita DialysisFresenius Medical Care and U.S. Renal Care — have contributed $99 million collectively to fight the proposition, while supporters, led by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), have contributed more than $18 million in support of the measure. – The Desert Sun