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Roundtable: Memorable conversations from 2021

 December 31, 2021 at 12:00 PM PST

Speaker 1: (00:01)

It's our final K PBS round table of 2021. And we're looking back on a year full of changes and challenges, San Diego struggles to beat the pandemic. America's longest war comes to an end and California's governor beats back a recall. Those are just some of the stories we'll revisit as we move into 2022, I'm Matt Hoffman, and this is K PBS Roundtable. Now usually a new president or the first California recall election since 2003 would be contenders for the hop story of the year. But all of it happened through the filter of the pandemic and that's where we're starting. As we revisit some of our conversations here on K PBS Roundtable, March marked a full year since the start of COVID shutdowns. And that blew a major hole in our economy. K PBS's Andrew Bowen talked with Claire Traeger about her special report on how local small all businesses weathered the storm.

Speaker 2: (01:04)

Let's start with the numbers. Do we have any estimates on just how many jobs have been lost locally or how many businesses have collapsed since last March

Speaker 3: (01:12)

In terms of businesses that have closed we're we're still trying to figure out exactly the San Diego workforce partnership. They collect notices of layoffs or furloughs. Um, and they said that they, since February, 2020, they've received 580 notices from businesses where normally in a typical year they get 100 to 150 and those 580 accounted for 90,000 employees. And they said, it's probably far more than that because businesses don't always is notified them, even though they're, they're supposed

Speaker 2: (01:45)

To now Harvard and brown universities are tracking the number of small businesses operating in our county and their work shows that more than a third of businesses, 37% were not operating last month. Was this a surprise? Did you expect such a high number?

Speaker 3: (02:01)

I, I mean, honestly, yeah. S you know, businesses only, especially small businesses maybe have two to three weeks worth of, of cash on hand. And so if they're closed for a couple weeks, that that could be it for them. So, you know, I, I think I wasn't sure what the number was gonna be, and, and we may still be trying to find out exactly how many, um, but that S felt, felt about right to me. And I'm actually glad that it's not more than that.

Speaker 2: (02:30)

Now you visited a number of small businesses for your reporting this week. One of them was NOLA San Diego, a massage business in downtown's east village. What did the owner of that business tell you about the tough choices she's had to make about trying to keep her business afloat? Yeah,

Speaker 3: (02:46)

Her business was a good example of kind of the uncertainty of, you know, when they had the first stay at home orders and closed non-essential businesses back in the spring, she said she closed. She wasn't really always sure as a massage therapy business, you know, whether she could stay open or be closed. Was she essential? Was she non-essential? She said, she thought about getting a, an acupuncturist or a, a chiropractor to just come in and share her space. So that then she, you could say that she was a medical service. So, you know, she really had a hard time navigating it. And then, you know, she, she reopened, I think, in the summer for, for some time and was gearing up for the holidays, which are, she said, you know, the most important time of the year that's when people maybe gift each other massages.

Speaker 3: (03:38)

And she said, Valentine's day is a really big deal for her business. And so they spent a bunch of money to get Christmas decorations and have everything all set up. And then there was, you know, the, the next, uh, stay at home order. And so she said they were only open three days in December and they, and they lost a lot of money. And so she's been trying to a gate. I think she's a good example of someone who has her family finances tied in with her business. And so she said she gets disability, um, money from being a disabled veteran. And she used some of that money to keep the business going. And then she said she has three daughters. And she sometimes took from their call college fund to, to keep the business going, cuz she just felt like if she could weather this, then the business would go back to supporting her family. And so she's kind of, you know, trying to take from the family side to keep the business going in. The hopes that later on the business will go back to, to supporting the family. What's

Speaker 2: (04:37)

The outlook for the economic recovery. How might, how long might it take to get back what has been lost over the past year and for new businesses to start emerging?

Speaker 3: (04:48)

Yeah, I mean, I think that's, that's the big question. This is, you know, an unprecedented time. And so people don't necessarily know, you know, what, what will happen in the long term. One of the other businesses that I profiled is project Rio collective, which is a coffee shop in paradise Hills. And that closed really early on in March or April. But now one of the co-owners is, is trying to start up a new coffee shop in the same location. So it seems like there are, you know, there's hope and that does seem like there's appetite for people to, to be going out and doing things as, as things loosen up. But I think, you know, we're just not sure yet what, what the long term impact is gonna be. Especially as businesses rely on things like the convention center to, to bring in conferences and we don't don't yet know, you know, what, what the future of that is gonna be.

Speaker 1: (05:51)

That was K PBS's Claire. Traer talking with our Andrew Bowen Claire's investigative work this year also includes a review of the county's contact tracing efforts and the unique challenges for San Diego's childcare centers during the pandemic. It's all original reporting made possible by K PBS members, just like you, that you can find Well, things are my much better now than they were during this time last year, but it hasn't been a smooth recovery and it almost cost California's governor his job in the end. It wasn't close with former San Diego mayor, Kevin Faulkner among the Republican challengers voters rejected the recall by a big margin just before election day in September LA times columnist and former KP reporter Jean Guerrero was on our show. She talked with Christina Kim about the Republican who surged to the front of the pack and how his appeal was much more than the pandemic. We've heard

Speaker 4: (06:46)

A lot about this election being a pandemic recall, but you argue that Larry elder's popularity tells us a different story, one rooted in rising xenophobia. What do you mean by that? And really what do you think is driving elder's appeal?

Speaker 5: (07:00)

Well, I mean, if you look at the voter information guide that comes with the ballot, uh, in the statement of reasons for the recall, the first two sentences are about basically Newsom being too nice to immigrants. And that is how this recall got started. You know, it with nativists and anti-immigrant Republicans in California, just very upset by Newsom's prot, Latino pro-immigrant stance. They, they really, really didn't like that. And that was how the recall initially took off and, and found a lot of support on right wing media. Something

Speaker 4: (07:35)

Elders really trying to drive home is that as a black man, he can't be a white supremacist. Even if he is denying structural racism and embracing that nativist rhetoric on his website, he even has his own ad that says, do I look like a white supremacist? What do you make of that? And how do we begin to understand really like that nuance between race and racism in this election?

Speaker 5: (07:55)

Well, it's no accident that Larry elder has, you know, know, come to the forefront of California, Republican politics under this whole umbrella of do I look like a white nationalist to you? Because he is basically a Trojan horse for a white nationalist agenda. He mentored Trump's senior advisor and speech writer, Steven Miller, the architect of Trump's most draconian immigration policies where he attacked, uh, refugees and asylum seekers and, uh, migrant children who had committed absolutely no crimes. As I write in my book, hate monger. He, he mentored him from the time that he was a teenager and also mentored other Trump acolytes like, uh, Andrew B Brightbart the head of, of the right wing blog Brightbart and Alex Marley who's editor in chief there. So he is very much part of this whole alt right to far right movement. He is to the right of Donald Trump and the idea that he is not a white supremacist or he is not advancing white supremacist ideas is just absurd.

Speaker 5: (08:54)

I mean, you look at his writings as I did in my columns early on, he was citing an open white supremacist named Jared Taylor, who, who believes in a white majority country and says terrible disparaging things about black people and, and, you know, puts out false statistics that paint black people as innately more violent than white people, you of stuff that's based in race based pseudoscience from the eugenics era. And this is stuff that Larry elder has been peddling, elevating white nationalism for years, and he gets away with it because he's a black man, but people of color know that racism internalized white supremacy, colorism, all of these issues are real issues in our communities. And unfortunately, uh, Larry elder is, is clearly either a victim to this and, and, and now a perpetrator of white supremacist ideology or, or he understands that it's, it sells. And, and I mean, it has, he's built a career around this. You know, he

Speaker 4: (09:53)

Has a campaign a that he delivers in Spanish that I wanna play and just get your reaction.

Speaker 6: (09:58)

So Larry elder El AOR, Gavin Newsom ES pub on classes in persona UN Quida a independent taste with us or publicans.

Speaker 4: (10:29)

So for those of you who don't know Spanish elders referencing the closed schools while governor Newsome's children are going to private schools in per and then citing that, you know, restaurants were closed. Meanwhile, the governor was going to the French laundry, which is a very expensive restaurant. So Jean, what do you think of this ad? Is this, is this an effective ad for Republican or even democratic Latinos?

Speaker 5: (10:49)

Well, it is effective because it falsely paints Newso as not caring about Latinos and are not, not doing anything for the Latino know community, you know, Newsom has owned up to the fact that going to the French laundry was a mistake. Um, and, and, and, you know, has acknowledged that, that he, that he shouldn't have done that. But, but the fact of the matter is that people are using that incident to paint Newsom as somebody who doesn't care about Latinos, and hasn't done anything for working class Californians, and that couldn't be farther from the truth. You know, Newsom's, COVID restrictions as, as difficult as they were for the Latino community, which experienced the brunt of, of the difficulty, you know, in, in terms of death, toll from COVID and, and economic toll, those restrictions saved countless lives. Like I would rather have my Aita still here, alive the way that she is than, than not.

Speaker 5: (11:45)

Um, you know, if, because of, you know, if, if Newsom hadn't put in place these, these protections for our community. So he took concrete steps to, to keep us safe. And I think that, that those should speak louder than, you know, one mistake or, or, or active hypocrisy that he, that he made. Do you think this is a possible turning point in California politics? I think that this is similar to what we saw in the 1990s, when was enormous white fear related to demographic change in this state. And you saw bipartisan support across California for measures that targeted immigrants, things like prop 180 7 that took social services away from the undocumented, including public school for their children, something which was later found unconstitutional attacks on bilingual education and on affirmative action. And a after that happened, Latinos mobilized, they naturalized their alos and UE and you know, their extended family. And they decided to be more politically active than ever before. And that is what turned California deep blue.

Speaker 1: (13:00)

That was LA times column this gene Guerrero with K PBS race and equity reporter, Christina Kim, that was back in September on K PBS Roundtable, the top three Republicans during that recall, Larry elder, John Cox and Kevin fought, they have all yet to announce if they're gonna challenge Newsom in 2022, Next year's election is also a midterm. And usually the party that controls the white house loses seats in Congress, president Biden will need to build up his support had eroded this summer. That's when the us ended its longest war nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, it was chaotic and violent punctuated by a deadly attack that killed 13 us troops during the evacuation 10 were from Kent Pendleton. Here's a portion of our Roundtable segment with K PBS, military reporter, Steve Walsh and host Kavanaugh.

Speaker 7: (13:55)

Now even the Biden white house was shocked by the speed of the Taliban takeover. What did military officials think was gonna happen when us troops pulled out? Well,

Speaker 8: (14:05)

Secretary of defense Lloyd Austin, and, uh, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff general, mark Millie, uh, spoke to reporters on Wednesday. Now, milli insists that the military did not have advanced warning that the Afghan government would collapse so quickly. You know, there are questions this week over why the us didn't keep Bogram air force base, which was much larger and more fortified than the airport in Cobb, and could handle more flights and Millie and Austin both said that it would've required more troops in support from the Afghan government to keep bog open. So at the time they just didn't think it was necessary. Steve

Speaker 7: (14:40)

You've reported on how slow the us has been in getting Afghan interpreters and others who helped the military out of Afghanistan before the withdrawal is this part of the reason for the chaos we've been seeing this week.

Speaker 8: (14:53)

These are people who are trying to make their way to the airport right now, in some cases they're being turned away, even when they have tickets and passports, other people have still not seen their paperwork come through. The state department is, is talking about expediting the visa process, but it still may be only a fraction of the people who qualify. We know that there are at least 20,000 people who applied for special immigration visas, not including their families. There are also other Americans on the ground. Some of them Afghan immigrants who went home to see family before the Americans left. And now they're, they're trying to get out themselves. There are reports that, uh, the Pentagon wanted the state department to have a smaller footprint so they could, uh, it would be easier to get people out in a hurry. The state department hesitated. They didn't wanna appear to abandon the Afghan government, the

Speaker 7: (15:41)

Results of that associated press poll. I mentioned that six out of 10 Americans say the war was not worth fighting. That sort of mirrors the reporting you've done about how the Afghanistan was always considered America's back burner war. Why was that?

Speaker 8: (15:57)

We're going to be, uh, asking that question for a long time. Was it worth it? Um, we're seeing comparisons to Vietnam and there, and there are some parallels on the other hand, Vietnam didn't attack the us. Some vets will point out that the lack of terror attacks from Al-Qaeda was a success story and worry about what will happen if the Taliban actually do take over. Other vets will point out that, uh, the work the us was able to do while the military was still there, you know, roads and schools and liberation of Afghan women, especially by, you know, I do in the short run, expect some very dark times. I, but the fact is, are really pretty damning though. I mean, we spent 83 billion to train an army that didn't hold up. I don't think it was a lack of courage, but clearly we did not get what we were paying for with more than a trillion dollars and thousands of American lives. You know, I've talked to veterans of the war in Afghanistan who are saying, you know, they need to reach out to Vietnam veterans. They now see, uh, real kinship there. The VAs even sent out notices, telling people that they're not alone. And for those vets who feel isolated and, and despondent about what they're seeing right now, ironically, these terrible pictures coming out of cobble may be what people really remember about this conflict, which date back two decades.

Speaker 7: (17:15)

And then there are the families of those who lost their lives in Afghanistan. How are they making sense of this in the face of such a terrible loss?

Speaker 8: (17:23)

Well, you know, it, it's difficult for them. The war will never really be over for them. There's always gonna be a part of them. That is, is suffering from a certain amount of, of grief and loss. And all they can do really is at this point is maybe turn off the television and not watch

Speaker 7: (17:41)

The us Marine Corps is made up largely of young men and women. Some of whom were not even born when the war in Afghanistan started. So what kind of legacy would you say the war in Afghanistan has left at camp Pendleton?

Speaker 8: (17:56)

Well, if you drive up the coast on along the five, you'll see the desert towns that were created to simulate Iraq in Afghanistan. Most of the people who served in Afghanistan by their left the service long ago, or they're in the back half after 20 year careers, they're part of, uh, the institutional memory that clears out very quickly in the Marine Corps. But before the war ended, the Marines were already transitioning back to working more closely with the us Navy and amphibious combat. The Pentagon has tried to pivot it to what they're calling great power competition, which is threats like China and Russia, not the Taliban. It means more sophisticated training exercises involving cyber it's a, it's an adjustment, uh, for a service that prides itself on its combat capabilities. So camp Pendleton had the dark horse battalion, which was the unit that had the most casualties of any Marine unit. During the 20 years of the Warren in Afghanistan with 25, people killed 34 people lost limbs. Soon. All that will be left of Afghanistan at camp. Pendleton will be memorials for units like the dark horse battalion.

Speaker 1: (19:10)

It's not easy to sugarcoat 2021 was a grind for a lot of us. And some of that stress manifested in bad behavior from inside of airplanes at 30,000 feet to courtside at basketball games, racist, taunting, and outright violence were often in the headlines. So what's causing all this. Is it just new or just something that's grabbing views, thanks to anyone with a smartphone this summer. Christina Kim got this perspective from union Tribune column, this Charles Clark.

Speaker 4: (19:36)

Yeah. It kinda seems like we're in a moment, there's always been to, to your point an element of kind of bad fan behavior in sports, but right now it seems to be coinciding with the reopening of society. So in a, as arenas and stadiums start to fill up, do you think there's a coincidence here or do you think there's an overlap? Is there something going on with what we've collectively experienced in the same way of what we're seeing, you know, in airplanes and in different kind of community settings where we're all together again?

Speaker 9: (20:01)

Yeah. You know, I think there's definitely a mix of both, right. I think people have been been inside for extended periods of time. Right? If you go out to, uh, a sporting event, it's for many people the first time they're in large groups of people. So I think that's certainly part of it and they need places to kinda have these outbursts of energy at the same time. I, I think another component of this honestly, is just how athletes have changed a bit. And also just how we look at these things. I do think that, you know, the last year we have seen, you know, a, a bit of a reckoning when it comes to racial justice. And I do think that is certainly part of this conversation as

Speaker 4: (20:40)

Well. You kind of alluded to this earlier and I just wanna ask you, you said that athletes themselves are changing, right. So what do you mean by that? Is there kind of a new expectation? Is there kind of a new code of ethics between fans and athletes that is kind of developing that we're beginning to understand now?

Speaker 9: (20:56)

I think it's just more and maybe it's just because right, you don't necessarily have the same gatekeepers that these guys, when something happens, they can just go and publicize, you know, their feelings themselves, right. They can go on Twitter or whatever, and they don't have to go through an intermediary. And at the same time, it also seems like athletes are a bit more open talking about it, you know, not to fixate too much on the NBA, but I, I do think it's a really good microcosm of this and that there you have a sport where the fans from a pure proximity perspective are lot closer to the players. It's also a sport where, you know, the vast majority of the players are black and most of the fans in the venue tend to be white. So I think it's a bit more striking, but, but kind of going back through the years, you look at some of the incidents that happened with that.

Speaker 9: (21:40)

I know the Houston rockets many decades ago, one of the most infamous was what happened to Vernon Maxwell, where fans were verbal, assaulting him all game. And he finally went up into the stands and actually got into it with someone. Now, I don't think we, at the time, if you look at the reporting really knew what was actually said that launched that kind of reaction later, we found out it was that someone made a comment about his wife's miscarriage, uh, which I think certainly crosses the line. Um, I think also probably the way that games are, you know, frankly filmed from an entertainment perspective adds to that, that there's certainly more cameras now in venues than there ever were before in documenting these kind of events. And along with that, right, there are the fans themselves, right. Everyone's got a camera and oftentimes they will publicize something that happens. Um, so I think there's a lot of factors, uh, but definitely a part of it seems to be that athletes have kind of reached a breaking point where they're like, look, you know, we're all for, you know, good natured booing or heckling. Um, but there is a line, I mean, and

Speaker 4: (22:45)

This isn't new. So do you think that we're hearing about it more? Why, why are we hearing about this? I mean, you've kind of alluded to it, right? There's social media, there's the fact that we've gone through, you know, what people are calling a racial reckoning, there's just a greater understanding and an empowerment by athletes. So do you feel in some ways that this is progress, that we're defining a new sports culture?

Speaker 9: (23:05)

I hope so. You know, I, I, I guess it is important to keep in mind this isn't strictly right. An American problem. Um, I, I know that, you know, in European football that you hear about these kind of things happening a lot, you know, but I think from an American lens, I think if we're being real honest, we've probably had an unhealthy sports culture for most of our existence. And I, I, I do hope that this is kind of a turning point where we all just kind of think about it a little more. Again, I'm not saying that, you know, you can't have fun at a game, right? Like that's what we all go there to do. But at the end of the day, if you care about a sport, you should care about the people who make that sport worth watching and give it kind of value and kind of emotional sentiment to you. And that means that even the people who are on the opposing team, right, you should have a moment where you can't cross the line.

Speaker 1: (24:07)

When we went to our digital team for the most popular stories from 2021, some of the obvious topics came back. Much of it was the difficult, heavy stuff that we have touched on during this show. But one piece of good news got our attention in October K PBS environment reporter Eric Anderson told us about a reproductive of breakthrough for rare California condos

Speaker 10: (24:28)

Testing revealed two young condos reared by two separate mothers had only one parent zoo geneticist. Oliver rider says the bird's eggs were not fertilized by male sperm. It hit

Speaker 9: (24:40)

Us in the face. We weren't looking for it. We didn't expect it.

Speaker 10: (24:43)

Genetic testing of the captive and wild population of California condos is a regular occurrence. As researchers work to maintain genetic diversity, the species almost went extinct 30 years ago, zoo researcher, Cynthia Steiner says the genomes of the mothers and the offspring are the same confirming the findings of asexual reproduction. This is

Speaker 11: (25:04)

Two individuals from two separate families. We might think that this is not as uncommon as we, we, we thought before

Speaker 10: (25:11)

The population ranked 22 birds in the 1980s, there are now more than 500 living condos. Eric Anderson, K PBS news.

Speaker 1: (25:19)

Eric also reported a TV feature story on this for our evening edition program. You can stream it any time on the K a PBS YouTube page. We wanna take a moment and thank you our listeners, not just those who tune into K PBS round table, but all of our programming, it's your curiosity, support and appreciation for in depth, original storytelling that allows us to serve our community. Hopefully you're enjoying some time off, maybe eating some good food around friends and family and looking forward who a better year ahead you can stream this show anytime as a podcast on all the major platforms I'm Matt Hoffman will be back for our first episode of 2022 next week on round table.

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Corinne Lam, right, and her husband Anthony Lam adjust their salon as they prepare to receive clients back inside after bringing in a chair from an outside area in San Diego. Friday, Aug. 28, 2020.
Gregory Bull / Associated Press
Corinne Lam, right, and her husband Anthony Lam adjust their salon as they prepare to receive clients back inside after bringing in a chair from an outside area in San Diego. Friday, Aug. 28, 2020.
We take a trip into the archives to revisit some of the memorable KPBS Roundtable segments from 2021.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman hosts a look back at some of the memorable stories and segments from the past year. Guests include KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser, LA Times columnist Jean Guerrero, KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh, and columnist Charles Clark from The San Diego Union-Tribune.