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146 posts
  • The Golden State
  • Election 2018
Antonio Villaraigosa
Antonio Villaraigosa (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

This week, the Los Angeles Times published its endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa as California’s next governor.  And some of you may be thinking we made our choice because of the L.A. connection.

Nope. That’s not at all how the endorsement process works. If it were, we wouldn’t need a staff of editorial writers and I wouldn’t have a job. In fact, our long familiarity with our former mayor, as seen through the deep archive of stories and editorials examining every achievement and failure of the first Latino mayor in modern L.A. history, was probably more of a liability to Villaraigosa.

Editorial writers and boards don’t often explain how we come to the conclusions we do, but maybe we should so that readers understand that we don’t make these decisions idly. I know that, on average, I spend more time on endorsement editorials than your average policy editorial, even super-wonky ones.

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  • The Witch Hunt
  • The Swamp
Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney, leaves federal court in New York on April 26.
Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney, leaves federal court in New York on April 26. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Crack all the jokes you want about Michael Cohen making a mockery of the Trump campaign’s rhetoric about draining the swamp. I am totally in awe of the man.

For starters, he took Essential Consultants, a company he created in October 2016 to funnel $130,000 in hush money to porn actress Stormy Daniels, and turned it into a business opportunity: selling insights about his client, the surprise winner of the following month’s presidential election. That’s agile leadership.

Even better, he persuaded some deep pocketed corporations to pay heavily for Essential’s services, even though he appears to have little to no expertise in the relevant fields. Novartis, the Swiss drugmaker, ponied up $1.2 million for a year’s worth of insights about the new administration, but says it met with Cohen only once. Nice!

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Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released more than 3,500 Facebook ads purchased from 2015 to 2017 by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency. A few things are apparent right away — the oddly formal phrasing that reads almost like the work of a machine, the hostility to the establishment, the thread of outrage or division (often expressed as racial, ethnic or regional pride) running through every post, regardless of the topic.

The overall impression isn’t just cynical manipulation, though. It’s nihilism. It reminded me of this sequence from “The Dark Knight”:

Sure, the Internet Research Agency’s minions practiced some of the usual negative-campaign tactics, running ads that directly attacked Hillary Clinton in the run-up to the election (and afterward). But a more enduring aim, evidently, was to make Americans more discontented, less united and less confident in U.S. institutions.

  • Trump
A security officer in 2006 at Marina Centre in Singapore, the country where President Trump plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
A security officer in 2006 at Marina Centre in Singapore, the country where President Trump plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (Wong Maye-E / Associated Press)

The meeting place that President Trump and North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un choose for their historic summit isn’t what you would describe as a citadel of freedom.

The island nation of Singapore has been a one-party state since it gained self-rule in 1959. The governing People’s Action Party effectively controls the election process, the press is censored and individuals’ right to speak is circumscribed. It’s a law-and-order state with infamously harsh punishments for even minor behavioral offenses, best known perhaps for its practice of caning minor law-breakers and executing drug traffickers.

Its longtime prime minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew, jailed political opponents yet was widely regarded as a “benevolent dictator.” His eldest son is the country’s current prime minister. Granted, the United States has seen a few political dynasties of its own, but none wielding the singular power of Singapore’s leader.

President Trump probably wouldn’t appreciate the comparison, but his nominee to head the CIA seemed to be channeling Barack Obama in some of her testimony at her Senate confirmation hearings.

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Gina Haspel, President Trump's nominee for CIA director, testifies at her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington on Wednesday.
Gina Haspel, President Trump's nominee for CIA director, testifies at her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington on Wednesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Before Gina Haspel testified at the long-awaited hearing on her nomination to be director of the CIA, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. From all accounts — including her own Wednesday morning — she’s been the consummate spy, having clandestinely collected intelligence in back alleys and dead drops in unspecified countries, then rising up the ladder at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. If in the course of her career she ran a black site in Thailand where terror suspects were tortured, maybe there was a way she could convincingly disavow what she did. 

Instead, I was offended by her refusal to answer Sen. Kamala Harris’ straightforward, crucial question: Did Haspel think what happened at those black sites was immoral? You could hear Haspel winding up the pitch for the long, meandering non-answer (an infuriating tradition among candidates for jobs at their confirmation hearings) when Harris (D-Calif.) cut her off with a blunt, “I’d like a yes or no answer.” Harris tried again, and Haspel dodged until finally saying she thought she had answered the question and Harris reminded her that she hadn’t.

We know that, as of this moment, it’s against the law for the CIA to run those kinds of interrogations and subject people to torture.  And Haspel did say at her hearing that it wouldn’t happen again on her watch. Well, sure, that’s the least she needed to say. 

New vehicles line the lot at Day Ford in Monroeville, Penn., in April.
New vehicles line the lot at Day Ford in Monroeville, Penn., in April. (Nate Guidry / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Numerous Democrats and media outlets have accused Republicans of making it easier for car dealers to discriminate against racial minorities by pushing a resolution through Congress to disapprove a guidance document issued in 2013 by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

But the CFPB under the Obama administration picked a fight with Congress on this issue, and it’s not really surprising that it lost. Yet the move doesn’t give lenders a green light to charge minorities more for car loans.

When Congress created the bureau in the 2010 Dodd-Frank act, it specifically exempted conventional auto dealers from the bureau’s jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the CFPB sought to work around that restriction by holding the lenders that finance car sales liable for dealers’ decisions to mark up or discount loan rates for individual customers.

  • L.A.
Chief Charlie Beck conducts his final inspection of LAPD officers on May 7.
Chief Charlie Beck conducts his final inspection of LAPD officers on May 7. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Thanks to diligent reporting by Times reporters, we now know the names on the list of finalists to replace Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck when he retires next month. And while I’m sure all of the three men on the list are talented law enforcement professionals, it’s still a great disappointment that all of them are men.

The next LAPD chief, it seems, will definitely not be a woman.

Too bad. I thought it was high time a woman take charge of one of the largest and most storied police departments in the nation, if not the world. Not just as a sop to gender diversity, but because a woman would probably manage the department differently. And, yeah, if that meant putting the finger on the scale for a woman in this case, so what? The scale has been unfairly tipped toward male police chiefs for as long as the job title has existed.

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  • Trump
  • The Swamp
Michael Cohen, one of President Trump's lawyers, leaves federal court in New York on April 26.
Michael Cohen, one of President Trump's lawyers, leaves federal court in New York on April 26. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

As if there weren’t enough Russia-related stories about Team Trump already, another one emerged Tuesday: According to CNN and the Daily Beast, Michael Cohen — Trump’s personal attorney and self-described fixer — allegedly took half a million dollars from a Russian oligarch over the first nine months of 2017.

The source of the allegations is Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing porn star Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford) in her dispute with Cohen and Trump. So preserve your skepticism. Nevertheless, CNN and the New York Times have both reported that the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, has been questioned by investigators for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is probing alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Bloomberg ranks Vekselberg as the 75th-richest man in the world, with $15.5 billion in assets. He chairs a multinational investment company whose holdings include a stake in Russia’s biggest aluminum company, according to Bloomberg. Notably, the Trump administration slapped him with sanctions last month along with other oligarchs accused of “malign activities,” including meddling in the 2016 election.

  • Trump
  • We're All Doomed
President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal with Iran Tuesday; Iranian President Hassan Rouhani faulted the U.S.
President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal with Iran Tuesday; Iranian President Hassan Rouhani faulted the U.S. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA. Iranian Presidency Office)

If there was any doubt that President Trump intended to repudiate the international agreement that placed limits on Iran’s nuclear program, he dispelled it on Tuesday.

As expected, Trump announced that he would not waive economic sanctions as the United States is required to do under the 2015 agreement, rejecting the advice of America’s closest allies and turning a blind eye to his own defense secretary’s conclusion that the agreement has allowed for robust monitoring of Iran’s activities.

But as alarming as the action the president took was, so was the deceitful and demagogic speech in which he attempted to justify it. It was virtually indistinguishable from the sort of rant he delivered a year and ago on the campaign trail, utterly uninformed by the sort of wisdom and appreciation of complexity that experience confers on most occupants of the Oval Office.