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370 posts
  • The Golden State
A mockup of a high-speed train is displayed at the Capitol in Sacramento on Feb. 26, 2015.
A mockup of a high-speed train is displayed at the Capitol in Sacramento on Feb. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California voters, like their leaders, want to have it both ways on high-speed rail.

A new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of 835 voters found that respondents were pretty equally divided over the high-speed rail line, with 48% expressing at least some support and 43% opposed. Looking that those numbers alone, you might think the public’s ardor for the project hadn’t dimmed all that much; voters approved a ballot measure authorizing the project in 2008 by a margin of only 53% to 47%.

But in the ensuing decade, the cost of the route has doubled to an estimated $77 billion, with state taxpayers on the hook for a considerably larger share. So the pollsters went on to ask a second question: Should the state stop working on the project, in light of the mushrooming cost? Almost half of the respondents said yes, stop the work, while only 31% said keep moving forward.

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  • Opinion
  • #MeToo
USC President C.L. Max Nikias, shown attending the university's commencement ceremony May 11, has agreed to step down.
USC President C.L. Max Nikias, shown attending the university's commencement ceremony May 11, has agreed to step down. (Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

It would be a mistake to assume that the USC scandal was simply a matter of leaders at one university going rogue. In fact, it would be dangerous to think that. The departure of university President C.L. Max Nikias satisfies the call for accountability over accusations involving two USC doctors, but it does not begin to resolve a deeper affliction at the nation’s colleges and universities: the unending pressure to raise the institutions’ rankings and bring in more money.

The various college rankings are typically based heavily on fairly empty criteria. US News and World Report, which produces the best known and most closely watched rankings, heavily counts a school’s reputation among other institutions’ faculty and officials. And no matter how extraneous and silly we might find them, the rankings are inextricably linked to fundraising. Raising the rankings means happier alumni and more applicants; it means drawing more star professors, which in turn means more grant money, higher rankings, more applicants. It’s part of why colleges send ridiculous numbers of marketing mailers to high school juniors and seniors. A higher number of applicants means a lower acceptance rate, which for some reason is considered a positive sign of a school’s reputation.

Inevitably, reputation and money are at war with integrity. Things are going to go wrong at campuses, as they tend to do at large organizations. But being straightforward about a college scandal could mean sacrificing reputation, which means sacrificing rankings and applications and – you get it. That’s a big part of why colleges were routinely under-reporting cases of sexual assault and brushing accusations aside. As long as they could be kept under wraps, they couldn’t harm a school’s reputation.

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  • Trump
  • Opinion
U. S. Border Patrol agents question undocumented immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border fence on Feb. 21 near McAllen, Texas.
U. S. Border Patrol agents question undocumented immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border fence on Feb. 21 near McAllen, Texas. (John Moore / Getty Images)

Over the span of two weeks earlier this month, federal agents separated more then 600 children from their parents at the border with Mexico, jailing the adults to await criminal prosecution for crossing the border without permission and sending the children off under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.

So much for sending “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as it says on the Statue of Liberty.

  • Trump
  • The Swamp
President Trump's murky language doesn't obscure his anti-immigration beliefs.
President Trump's murky language doesn't obscure his anti-immigration beliefs. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

A persistent problem for the media — and for the public, for that matter — in listening to President Trump is figuring out what exactly he means, and whether he really means it. That was on clear display with his recent comments about the “animals” he claimed his administration has been kicking out of the country (deportations of immigrants who crossed the border illegally are down compared with the Obama administration, while arrests are up — as is the backlog in immigration courts).

Trump insisted later that he was referring specifically to MS-13 gang members, yet as I wrote the other day, the original statement within the context of the exchange with with local California officials reads differently. The person speaking before him mentioned MS-13, the violent international gang that began in Los Angeles, but Trump’s comments reflected a broader target — immigrants in general.

  • Opinion
  • Rule of Law
In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, an Uber driverless car is displayed in a garage in San Francisco.
In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, an Uber driverless car is displayed in a garage in San Francisco. (Associated Press)

Uber is shutting down its self-driving car-testing in Arizona, the company announced Wednesday. The decision comes after one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe in March.

Instead, Uber says it will test its autonomous cars in San Francisco and Pittsburgh, where company engineers are based.

It’s worth remembering that Uber left San Francisco in a huff at the end of 2016 because California had the gall to require Uber to get a permit to operate its self-driving cars on public streets. When Uber refused, the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered the company to take the cars off the road.

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  • Trump
  • Opinion
(AFP)

Seriously, is anyone really shocked that the much-ballyhooed Summit-of-the-Century between President Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong Un has been canceled?

From the start, this highly unusual meeting of the minds was undertaken in an unorthodox way, to put it mildly. Negotiated often by tweet and news communique rather than through established diplomatic channels, it began with threats and name-calling. Trump sought laughs from his base by dismissing the North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man,” and Kim responded by calling Trump a “dotard.” When Kim referred to a Trump speech as “reckless remarks by an old lunatic,” Trump asked “Why would Kim Jong Un insult me by calling me “old,’ when I would NEVER call him short and fat?”

But while the schoolboy insults were bandied to the amusement of the world, there were also real threats of serious violence by players who at least in theory had the power to follow through if they chose to. Trump said ominously that “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded.” He threatened to unleash “fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.” In one speech he vowed to “totally destroy North Korea.” Kim made equally rash threats. “The United States should know that the button for nuclear war is on my table,” he said. “The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range.”

  • Opinion
  • We're All Doomed
President Trump, right, on Thursday called off a scheduled summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, citing overheated rhetoric.
President Trump, right, on Thursday called off a scheduled summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, citing overheated rhetoric. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Here’s a horrible thought: The United States and North Korea might abandon efforts to pursue a nuclear deal because they can’t agree on whose idea it was to meet.

You’ve no doubt heard by now that President Trump called off the scheduled June 12 summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un because of the inflammatory rhetoric coming out of top North Korean officials in recent days. (Insert your potentially offensive pot-kettle-black joke here.) But in the back-and-forth between the two nations lies another, far more petty dispute.

On Monday, Vice President Pence repeated on Fox News the Trump administration line that North Korea would end up like Libya (i.e., gutted) if it didn’t reach a deal to abandon its nuclear ambitions. He added:

  • Plastic Trash
 Happy Meal with french fries and a drink with a plastic straw at a McDonald's
Happy Meal with french fries and a drink with a plastic straw at a McDonald's (Seth Perlman)

Plastic drinking straws are having a moment – and not a good one, for them. Though certainly not the worst source of litter, these ubiquitous sucking tubes have become the stand-ins for all the single- use plastic trash mucking up the ocean.

U.S. cities, mostly those on the West Coast, have passed anti-straw ordinances and there’s a statewide “straws only on request” bill pending in the California Legislature. New York City is considering an outright ban.

Kids in particular have picked up on the anti-straw message, probably because they use so many of them. Also, anyone who watches this video will never think about drinking straws the same way. Many forward-thinking businesses have correctly read the temperature of customers and have voluntarily stopped handing out plastic straws. Good for them!

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  • Opinion
  • Rule of Law
Judge Merrick Garland says the federal appellate court in Washington, D.C., will livestream audio of its oral arguments.
Judge Merrick Garland says the federal appellate court in Washington, D.C., will livestream audio of its oral arguments. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Thanks to Senate Republicans, Merrick Garland never made it to the Supreme Court. But the federal appeals court judge who was nominated by former President Obama to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia might still exert some influence on the nation’s highest tribunal — if only by setting an example.

On Wednesday, in his role as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Garland announced that the appeals court — sometimes called the second most important court in the nation — would stream the oral arguments before its judges live online. (The only exceptions will be arguments in which classified or sealed matters must be discussed.) Previously, the court had livestreamed audio of particular arguments on request.

Garland called the new policy “an important additional step in bringing transparency to our proceedings.”

  • We're All Doomed

Over the weekend, race-baiting provocateur and Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren had a glass of water thrown in her face at a Minneapolis bar. Video of the incident surfaced soon after and has been spreading across Twitter in a tsunami of schadenfreude ever since.

Viscerally satisfying as Lahren’s comeuppance may seem (this is, after all, someone who once likened Black Lives Matter to the KKK) let’s shut this trend down pronto, before it spreads. And not because of decency or the 1st Amendment or open-and-honest expression or anything like that.

This is America. Let’s get real: We know exactly where this is going to take us. The Obamas, or Oprah, or some other figurehead of grace, dignity and earnest expression will be out for a quiet meal and a knuckledragger will throw something far worse than water in their direction. Half of the internet (our president likely among them) will flock to Twitter screaming: “Well whatabout Tomi!”