After being a pariah, Syrian President Bashar Assad begins to regain acceptance in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Iraqi leaders call for U.S. troops to leave.
Glimmers of a New Arab World Order
More than six years ago, a number of Arab states closed their embassies in Syria and called for President Bashar Assad to step down. This week, the United Arab Emirates became the first to reopen its embassy in Damascus — an acknowledgment that Assad has won the civil war to dislodge him. It comes just after President Trump announced he is pulling out all U.S. troops from Syria. Meanwhile, Trump’s surprise visit to a U.S. airbase in Iraq has strained relations there, because he did not meet with any Iraqi officials. Lawmakers in Baghdad are demanding U.S. troops leave the country and saying Trump’s visit showed the United States’ disregard for other nations’ sovereignty.
-- When Trump bragged to troops stationed in Iraq that he had secured them a massive pay raise, he was repeating a false claim he's made repeatedly on the campaign trail.
-- Nearly one week in, here’s where things stand on the partial government shutdown. Hint: It probably won’t end any time soon.
-- Trump’s trade war has come with an unexpected bonus, at least in the short term: more trade, in a rush to get ahead of new and higher tariffs.
New Year, New Laws
Gun ownership. Plastic straws at restaurants. Pet custody in a divorce. Hundreds of new laws in California take effect Jan. 1. (That’s Tuesday; how did the year fly by so fast?) This handy graphic sums up some of the biggest, including a ban on secret settlements with employers for sexual assault or harassment, and some of the more obscure, such as backup batteries for new garage door openers.
Shedding a Bit More Light on the Police
One of the most significant changes taking effect in California on Tuesday affects the strictest secrecy laws in the nation surrounding police personnel files. Those laws have helped keep misconduct out of view in courts where officers testify against defendants. The new law will open up some internal police records to prosecutors and the public. At the same time, a Times review of records found that L.A. County prosecutors failed for years to notify defendants about accusations of wrongdoing against police witnesses, even when the D.A.’s office had evidence about the allegations. Now the office is trying to improve such disclosures.
Starting Off on the Wrong Track
It’s been called the “train to nowhere” and the “tragedy of Jerry Brown.” In a few days, the California bullet train project will officially become Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s problem. Cost overruns, mismanagement and delays have put the project off track. Newsom will have to decide whether to put the project on hold and salvage something out of the billions already spent, or stick with the original vision and try to come up with at least $50 billion more.
The Go-Go Real Estate Market Got Up and Went
After years of a boom in Southern California home sales, the market is not quite a bust — but it has been slowing down significantly. The latest sign: a 12% drop in November sales from a year earlier, which is the fourth month in a row they have fallen. So far, most housing experts say the sky is not falling. But that could change if Wall Street’s roller-coaster ride continues and more uncertainty from Washington begins to hurt consumer confidence.
Bob Hope began entertaining servicemen and women at U.S. military bases in 1941, starting at March Field near Riverside, and in 1948 started his annual Christmas shows at American bases overseas. It was a tradition that spanned 50 years and often brought him close to the fighting.
-- Five former Inglewood police officers who were fired after fatally shooting a couple sitting in a car have filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming they were discriminated against because they are white.
-- A Manhattan Beach woman who went missing more than two years ago during a family trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has been confirmed dead.
-- Students at Cal State L.A. are fighting to eliminate housing fees to stay in campus apartments during winter breaks.
-- The federal government’s partial shutdown has given travelers free access to national parks that usually charge up to $30 per carload. But all visitor centers and many restrooms are closed and many other services have been disrupted, including bathroom maintenance and trash collection.
-- Celebrating the arrival of 2019 at home? Here’s how to create a do-it-yourself photo backdrop for selfies with balloons, tinsel or anything else you can think of.
-- The brand-new Pablito’s Tacos in Burbank is “about 70% traditional Tijuana taco stand, with a 30% Peruvian touch.”
HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS
-- “Stan & Ollie,” which stars Steve Coogan as Laurel and John C. Reilly as Hardy, shows the legends at the twilight of their career when they toured the United Kingdom. Coogan and Reilly recently told us what drew them to making the film.
-- The makers of the movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” wanted to have a unique look. Here’s how they got it.
-- TV antennas are making a comeback. As people drop cable TV and move to streaming services, they’re a free way to get local channels.
-- Alabama’s attorney general says his office is exploring whether disinformation tactics deployed against Republican Roy Moore during last year's special election for a Senate seat violated state campaign laws. Moore lost to his Democratic rival, Sen. Doug Jones.
-- A transformer explosion at an electrical plant set the skies above New York City ablaze in an eerie, pulsing blue light. Authorities assured people on social media that it was not caused by aliens.
-- Saudi Arabia's King Salman shook up top government posts after international fallout from the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi. The changes appear to further consolidate the crown prince’s grip on power.
-- France’s “yellow vest” movement has hopscotched to Taiwan, where people protested outside the Ministry of Finance, responsible for its tax system.
-- Jean-Jacques Savin of France is traveling across the Atlantic Ocean in an orange barrel, propelled only by the ocean’s currents. It’s stocked with — what else? — wine and foie gras.
-- As part of a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Tesla’s board of directors must now “oversee” Elon Musk’s public communications, including his Twitter feed. But how that will work in practice is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, in court, Musk’s lawyers argued that the 1st Amendment should protect his tweets calling a volunteer in the Thai cave rescue a “pedo” and a “child rapist.”
-- Toy stores have been dying off in the U.S., but in China, it’s a different story. Toys R Us, FAO Schwarz and Lego are among those betting that Chinese consumers are willing to go to physical stores.
-- When the Lakers and Clippers meet for the first time this season tonight, it will be the culmination of a kind of “best-case scenario” for professional basketball in L.A.
-- Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray has a cold but says he will be ready for top-ranked Alabama and its formidable defense in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl on Saturday.
-- Congress should ensure that aid to black lung sufferers is there when they need it.
-- How we can save 500,000 lives in 2019 without even trying hard.
WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING
-- A reporter who accompanied Trump to Iraq tells the story behind the scenes. The president even thanked the press pool he so often attacks: “We very much appreciate you coming with us." (NPR)
-- “The Apprentice” executive producer Mark Burnett helped create the image that paved the way for Trump to become president. (The New Yorker)
-- How frankincense and myrrh became linked with the sacred. (Aeon)
ONLY IN L.A.
When the Rose Parade rolls through Pasadena next week, be sure to check out the 48-foot-long, 23-foot-high float called “Far Out Frequencies.” It was built entirely by the students at Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, following a tradition that began in 1949, in a facility that has seen better days. Eventually, Cal Poly Pomona will open up a $3.7-million Rose Float Lab and Design Complex. Though it’s been beset by delays, hope floats.