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Opinion L.A. Observations and provocations from The Times' Opinion Staff
Americans aren't optimistic -- but they aren't all that pessimistic, either

In my Wednesday column, I wrote about the perennial, recurring discovery that Americans aren’t as confident in the country’s future as they once were.

It’s a theme that pops up in almost every presidential campaign, at least when the economy’s not doing well: Candidates from the party out of power announce that the American Dream is in trouble, and suggest that the man in the White House is at fault.

But it’s nothing new. “Between 1989 and 2014, no poll ever found a majority that believed the next generation would be better off,” I wrote.

That sounded pretty sweeping -- and a sharp-eyed editor from the Tampa Bay Tribune, Jim Verhulst, emailed to question it.

He noted that the Gallup Poll published a graph last year suggesting that Americans were actually pretty optimistic from 1997 until 2010. In 2010, for example, Gallup’s chart showed that when people were asked if “today’s youth will have a better life than their parents,” 62% said they thought a better life was likely; only 38% said...

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The Boy Scouts of America's baby steps on accepting gay Scout leaders

Robert M. Gates, the former U.S. Defense secretary and current Boy Scouts of America president, earlier today urged the youth organization to, essentially, grow up and allow gays to serve in leadership roles.

Gates stopped short of pushing the issue to a vote during the national conference in Atlanta, but he said the organization faced an irrepressible tide, and it ought to change its policy before a court orders it to do so. (The speech is viewable here.)

He also cited growing resistance to the ban among local councils of Scout troops, and state laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

"We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be," Gates said. "The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained. We can expect more councils to openly challenge the current policy."

The changing legal landscape, including the looming Supreme Court decision on whether gays have the right to marry, puts the Boy Scouts in "an unsustainable...

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When it comes to the death penalty, California should follow Nebraska

If 32 members of the Nebraska legislature hold firm, the Cornhusker State could become the 19th state to end the death penalty, a slow but important step - I hope - toward nationwide abolition (an effort in Delaware recently stalled, unfortunately).

It's also significant that Nebraska is a conservative Republican state, and the vote reflects a bit of ground-shifting in that political sector.

“I’m a conservative guy — I’ve been a Republican my whole life,” Sen. Colby Coash, a sponsor of the bill, said before the vote. “A lot of my conservative colleagues have come to the conclusion that we’re there to root out inefficient government programs. Some people see this as a pro-life issue. Other people see it as a good-government issue. But the support that this bill is getting from conservative members is evidence that you can get justice through eliminating the death penalty, and you can get efficient government through eliminating the death penalty.”

However the Nebraska legislators reached...

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A smart call for fairer traffic fines

Is traffic ticket relief in store for Californians? Last month, prompted by a report that found millions of Californians were not paying tickets, even though not doing so brings even bigger fines and punishments, we took a deeper look at all the add-ons that jack up a ticket fine by about 400%.

What we found was that the average $100 ticket will cost you nearly $500, most of it going to pay for things that have nothing to do with driving. Over the years, lawmakers found ticket assessments a useful way to fund things such as traumatic brain injury services, aid for victims of violent crimes and training for police officers.

We concluded that it was “time to rein in California's traffic ticket surcharges” and called on Gov. Jerry Brown to reassess the surcharges and to come up with a more affordable pricing structure.

Haven’t heard from the governor yet, though the budget he released this week includes ticket debt amnesty for the many Californians stuck in "a hellhole of desperation." But...

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Vanessa Place's 'Gone With the Wind' tweets: Artistic expression or racism?

When Vanessa Place began tweeting Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” she did it as an artistic act of provocation. And provoke she did, leading the Assn. of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) — confronted with a Change.org petition — to drop the Los Angeles poet, conceptual artist and defense lawyer from a panel selecting participants in the organization’s annual meeting next year.

That was the wrong move. When an organization dedicated to advocacy on behalf of writers and writing programs, inherently extensions of free expression, penalizes writers for expressing themselves freely, the mission seems lost. 

A bit of background: Place describes “Gone With the Wind” as “a profoundly racist text," and she believes Mitchell crafted her book as an act of minstrelsy. From a note Place posted on Facebook after the storm welled up:

“The antebellum Southern romance with slavery is lost, mourned, and replaced with admiration for Northern speculative capital, with pure profiteering, equally...

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The 'Hollywood Circuit' hands a win to filmmakers over actors

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals backed away from the controversial copyright-law ruling that then-Chief Judge Alex Kozinski had authored last year, finding that an actress in a notorious movie about the Muslim prophet Muhammad did not hold a copyright over her five-second appearance in the movie's trailer.

The en banc ruling aligns the court with the U.S. Copyright Office, which said actress Cindy Lee Garcia did not hold a copyright over her fleeting appearance. It also adds weight to the argument, advanced by this newspaper and other news organizations, that copyright law shouldn't be used for the sole purpose of restraining speech.

And though the ruling isn't likely to shake up Hollywood, it was a clear victory for filmmakers over the actors' unions.

Writing for the court's majority, Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown expressed sympathy for Garcia, who says she has received death threats after being tricked by the filmmaker to perform in an inflammatory film. But Garcia has other ways...

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