Opinion L.A.
Observations and provocations from The Times' Opinion Staff
Seal Beach can't simply trap and kill its way out of a coyote problem

At the point at which coyotes are following people into their houses, and killing dozens of pets within a small town in a short period of time, yes, it’s time to do something. Normally, trapping and euthanizing coyotes is a bad idea, for several reasons. But in Seal Beach, things have reached a point where removing the coyotes, as the city has decided to do, might be a necessary part of the response.

The coyotes are acting so bold there, so unafraid of people, that there is reason for concern about human safety. And these coyotes appear to have been trained, so to speak, to favor what they can find in the town. That’s probably because, with the drought, their pickings in the wild are slimmer, and also because people in Seal Beach have made city living a little too easy for the agile, adaptable creatures.

I sympathize. I live in coyote territory too (aren’t they just about everywhere in this region?), and neighbors recently lost their adorable Maltese to one. They had warned me a while...

Read more
Are toll lanes elitist or progressive?

Allowing motorists to speed to work past clogged lanes of traffic, if they’re willing to pay thousands of dollars a year, could be seen as a way to raise money for other transit projects that benefit the public widely, or as the opposite: using the funds that all Californians pay toward transportation for the benefit of the well-heeled.

The plan to construct toll lanes along a widened, 14-mile section of the 405 Freeway in Orange County has met with fierce public opposition but appears to be going forward.  Local money would be used to add a lane in each direction from Costa Mesa through Seal Beach; then Caltrans would take advantage of the freeway’s widened footprint to fund a toll lane. The exact price for using what some derisively call the “Lexus lanes” has not been made clear, but according to a report by KTLA, estimates run up to $11 each way for rush-hour commuters.

At its regular meeting Monday, the Times editorial board raised the question of whether this was a good idea, and...

Read more
The ugly surprise of out-of-network doctors and 'balance billing'

The New York Times' Elisabeth Rosenthal offered an important lesson in healthcare economics over the weekend that's a must-read for anyone about to undergo a major medical procedure.

Rosenthal's piece explored how charges from out-of-network providers can magically show up on a hospital bill. She focused on one particularly nasty practice, called "drive-by doctoring," in which physicians call in colleagues not in a patient's network to consult or assist on a procedure. The out-of-network provider charges the retail rate -- in some cases, hundreds of times what the government would pay them for the same work, and invariably far more than what the patient's insurer will cover. The provider then tries to collect the remainder directly from the patient, a process known as "balance billing."

Sadly, patients have little protection against this sort of maneuvering -- at least at this point. The Affordable Care Act places an annual limit on out-of-pocket costs, but that cap doesn't apply to...

Read more
Dad pleads: Don't let health insurance offer my daughters birth control!

Remember the prediction that the Supreme Court’s decision to let Hobby Lobby opt out of Obamacare contraception coverage would open the floodgates for more of the same?

Well, it’s not a flood, but it is a one-man trickle. A Missouri Republican legislator is suing in federal court for a personal opt-out for his family.

State Rep. Paul Wieland is a devout Catholic who’s petitioned for an exemption to the birth control coverage included on the insurance policy he gets as an elected state official. He doesn’t want it to be available to his two adult daughters, ages 19 and 20, and his youngest daughter, 13. (For that matter, the policy covers birth control for Wieland’s wife, too, but that's not his grounds for suing.)

Otherwise, Wieland’s attorney told a federal appeals court, forcing Wieland to accept birth control coverage would be like forcing Mormon parents to “stock unlocked liquor cabinets” for their children when the parents are away.

Now, this is puzzling for a couple of reasons....

Read more
Driver's licenses for immigrants here illegally clear key federal hurdle

It took a while, but the federal government late last week finally signed off on the California Department of Motor Vehicles' design for driver's licenses for people in the country illegally.

The cards, which will be issued beginning Jan. 1, will have the phrase "federal limits apply" on the front. The Department of Homeland Security rejected the initial design, which would have placed a small mark on the front and add to the back the sentence: "This card is not acceptable for official federal purposes." So the new version will be less subtle than backers had hoped (Ted Rall explores that here, and in the cartoon above).

It's a reasonable compromise. The editorial board last year endorsed the state's move under AB60 to issue licenses to immigrants in the country illegally who learn the rules of the road and pass a driver's test, among other requirements. The September editorial said:

"That would bring California in line with at least nine other states that have adopted similar measures...

Read more
New bill would protect the market for used high-tech goods

It may be hard to imagine as you gaze upon your shiny new iPhone 6, but there just may come a day when you'll want something even newer and shinier.

At that point, you may decide to sell your iPhone on eBay or Craigslist to offset the price of its replacement. But what if Apple said you couldn't sell a working version of one of its products? What if Apple demanded that buyers of its used gear pay a hefty fee to activate the operating system, or required them to pay for a service contract?

Sounds outrageous, right? Yet that's exactly what some manufacturers of high-tech business equipment do. For example, Palo Alto Networks, which makes firewalls for corporate networks, requires buyers of used versions of its products to pay a non-refundable certification fee just to have the device examined to see if it can be put into service, then pay an activation fee and sign up for at least a year's worth of service before the device can be turned on.

Or consider Hewlett-Packard, which requires...

Read more
Garcetti's response to Uber: smarter rules for cabs, not necessarily equal ones

As much as taxi companies hate the likes of Uber and Lyft, the upstarts may lead Los Angeles officials to provide cabbies some unexpected relief.

The Times' Laura Nelson reported Friday that Mayor Eric Garcetti urged the city's Board of Taxi Commissioners to take another look at the city's 64 pages (!!!) of rules imposed on cab companies and their drivers. The board agreed, increasing the likelihood that some outdated and unnecessary burdens may be lifted.

According to Garcetti's office, Los Angeles is the first to try to modernize its rules for taxis in response to the disruption caused by the smartphone-based ride-summoning services, rather than simply treating the latter as if they were cab companies. But while the review is overdue, it's important that the board not misinterpret what Garcetti has invited it to do.

The mayor called on the board to "take all steps necessary to ensure equal competition." That suggests the city should regulate taxis based on how the state regulates...

Read more
Cats in laundry hampers or existential turmoil: Why we love cat videos

You’ve seen them online and you know you secretly, or not so secretly, love them: the cat riding a Roomba vacuum cleaner in circles around a kitchen.  In a shark costume.  (Why ask why? Simply marvel at a cat owner who got her cat into a shark costume.) Then there’s the cat who compulsively keeps flushing a toilet.  Or the cat who takes a flying jump shot out of a laundry hamper at the clothes his owner flings at the wall above the hamper.  That’s one of L.A. Feline Film Festival director Erik DeLeo’s favorites. “Just Google ‘cat in hamper,’” he said.

I did. And I also got the cat in the hamper who grabs socks as his owner sticks them in — and the cat who stands on top of the hamper and then falls in.  These are all part of the ever-expanding universe of cat videos that rack up millions of views on YouTube and have us giggling at our desks. “Can’t you see I’m busy working?” a colleague deadpanned when I stepped into his office to find him watching a video that his wife had emailed him...

Read more
If 'breast is best,' why are our devices for pumping breast milk the worst?

A breast pump often means the difference between a mom being able to feed her babies breast milk, or not. It’s a tool crucial to many new moms trying to fulfill the “breast is best” mantra, whether they’re trying to keep up their breast milk supply while working, or pumping for a sick baby who’s in the hospital. Massive public health efforts exist worldwide to make sure babies get only breast milk for the first six months of their lives, and the breast pump can play a major role in fulfilling those goals. So why then does the breast pump design suck? 

Technology expands its scope all the time. Phones can operate as our personal assistants. Electric and hybrid cars promise to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Drones can deliver pizza! However, the breast pump design has remained largely unchanged since its patent in the 1920s

Luckily, innovators at the MIT Media Lab intend to try to change that with a “hackathon” entitled “Bringing Innovation to Maternal Health: Make the Breast...

Read more
North Hollywood/Zev Yaroslavsky station? Stop the political madness

A Metro committee on Thursday backed a plan to rename two rail stations after termed-out Los Angeles County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina. If approved by the full Metro board -- which still includes the two supervisors -- on Oct. 2, the Red Line terminus would be called the North Hollywood/Zev Yaroslavsky station and the Gold Line would get the East Los Angeles Civic Center/Gloria Molina station.

Seriously? Not only are these long, unwieldy station names that will mean absolutely nothing to the vast majority of transit riders, but the decision to rename the stations smacks of self-congratulatory back-slapping among politicians. Yaroslavsky and Molina should say, "Thanks, but no thanks."

No wonder Metro's political leaders keep talking about the need for another half-cent sales tax for transportation. The agency will have to build a lot more rail lines if every board member is going to get their own station name.

The authors of the renaming motions say the two...

Read more
Sorry, Apple fanatics, but the new iPhones aren't exceptional

It’s happening again. All around me, at social events, on social media and in publications I enjoy, people are brimming with enthusiasm for new Apple products. And I just don’t get it.

No, I am not a hater of Apple in general, and yes, I do recognize the aesthetic beauty of Apple’s devices. I appreciate how the coders in Cupertino have pushed personal computing forward over the last 30 years in important ways, and how many non-Apple products owe debts to the paths that Apple has blazed (as their patent lawyers will gladly remind you). And I don’t care what people say, that U2 stunt they just did was awesome, backlash be damned.

Still, when a company gets major media attention for releasing a device with “new” features that its competitors have had for years, I find it kind of weird. When the company’s advocates defend it by pointing to their phone’s “premium feel,” I find it hard not to point out that for all its “premium”-ness, it’s still less durable than my Moto X — which, when I...

Read more
Is the 'war on Ebola' really a mission for our military?

Boots on the ground! Just weeks after Doctors Without Borders told the United Nations that curbing the Ebola epidemic, and the subsequent riots and chaos in West Africa, would require a military response, President Obama announced that he’ll be sending up to 3,000 U.S. military personnel to Liberia to “battle” the Ebola virus.

The irony of the situation aside -- so far Obama has shied away from planting any boots in Iraq or Syria, where there is actual combat going on -- the president’s latest military move represents a startling transformation of metaphoric language: from describing reality to creating reality.

A “war” against some perceived evil has been a favorite metaphor of politicians and policymakers for decades. There was President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and President Ford’s fire-engine-red “WIN” buttons (the “WIN” stood for “Whip Inflation Now”). More recently there’s been the “Republican War on Women,” not to mention the “Republican War on Science.” And, of course,...

Read more