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Newsletter: Today: How a NASA Mission to Detect Toxic Releases Was Grounded

PALMDALE, CA - FEBRUARY 7, 2019 A NASA-operated DC-8 stationed in Palmdale California used to coll
The NASA-operated DC-8 in its Palmdale hangar between missions.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, EPA and Texas officials waved off an attempt by NASA scientists to monitor pollution levels.

TOP STORIES

How a NASA Mission to Detect Toxic Releases Was Grounded

When Hurricane Harvey swept through the Houston area in August 2017, it led to chemical spills, fires, flooded storage tanks and damaged industrial plants. Residents and rescuers complained of burning throats, nausea and dizziness. But officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, then led by Scott Pruitt, and from the state of Texas maintained the air quality was fine. Not only that, they told NASA scientists — who were planning to fly a DC-8 equipped with the world’s most sophisticated air samplers over the hurricane zone to monitor pollution levels — to stay away. Why? Read this special L.A. Times report based on emails obtained via a public records request and interviews with dozens of scientists and officials familiar with the situation.

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Casting a Wider Net on Trump

Suspicious Russian contacts. Efforts to impede the special counsel’s office. Hush-money payments involving the National Enquirer. Emoluments. All of them will be getting scrutiny under an investigation begun by House Democrats into whether President Trump and administration officials have obstructed justice, abused their power or acted corruptly. And while Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been trying to tamp down talk of impeaching Trump, this investigation could lay the groundwork for it. Not surprisingly, Trump’s reaction was to call the probe “a political hoax.”

More Politics

-- In case it wasn’t clear before: Hillary Clinton says she won’t run for president in 2020, but vows she’s “not going anywhere.”

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-- Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson says he intends to leave his post at the end of Trump’s first term.

-- Matthew Whitaker, the former acting attorney general whose brief appointment by Trump generated intense controversy, has resigned from the Justice Department.

‘Normalizing Hate’ in Orange County

At a house party in Costa Mesa, high school students were playing a drinking game with red Solo cups and ping pong balls. At some point in the night, the cups ended up in the shape of a swastika. Then came the photos, with students’ arms raised in a Nazi salute. Amid public outrage and official investigations, some students involved have written apology letters. Others not at the party see the incident as part of a bigger pattern. Meanwhile, the images have particularly hit home with those who have felt the effects of hate crimes in Orange County, as columnist Robin Abcarian explores.

The ‘California Rule’ Lives, but One Pension Perk Doesn’t

For more than 60 years, California has adhered to a legal rule that guarantees public employees the pensions that were in place the day they were hired. While the so-called California Rule has been a dream for retirees, it’s been a nightmare for those dealing with massively underfunded pension plans. Now, the state Supreme Court is reviewing a series of pension disputes. This week, it didn’t touch the California Rule but decided that state and local governments may repeal certain benefits that are not part of the core pension benefits.

Comfort for the Doomed

Every Sunday and Wednesday night outside the Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon, animal rights activists gather for a mission of compassion. When semi-trucks full of pigs pull up to the gates, they stop for two minutes, so that the activists can give water and comfort to the animals headed for slaughter. “Even though we’re not going to save one single pig, what we can offer for just a second is basic decency for a living being,” says one participant. Today’s Column One looks at a ritual that plays out peacefully in the night.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

On this date in 1982, comedian John Belushi was found dead in Bungalow No. 3 of the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard. The Times’ obituary the next day quoted police saying they found “nothing out of the ordinary.” Later it would emerge that Belushi, 33, had died of an overdose of cocaine and heroin injected by Catherine Evelyn Smith. She pleaded no contest to a charge of involuntary manslaughter and was paroled from state prison after serving roughly half of a three-year sentence.

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John Belushi in the movie "Animal House."
(Universal Studios)

CALIFORNIA

-- Los Angeles County went to court to seek an injunction against Sheriff Alex Villanueva over his reinstatement of a deputy who was fired in connection with allegations of domestic abuse.

-- Amid sexual harassment allegations and growing calls for his resignation, John Duran says he will relinquish the title of mayor of West Hollywood. He cited health issues for his decision.

-- The state has sued the Trump administration in an effort to block a new regulation that restricts access to abortion and other family-planning services.

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-- After a drizzly weekend, Southern California is bracing for a stronger storm that forecasters expect will dump rain through Friday.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

-- Luke Perry, best known as bad-boy heartthrob Dylan McKay from the 1990s TV drama “Beverly Hills, 90210,” died at 52 after suffering a massive stroke. That on-screen role still has a hold on many viewers.

-- The True/False Film Fest in Columbia, Mo., is set in “fly-over America.” Columnist Mary McNamara says that’s what makes it so important.

-- After “Leaving Neverland,” can we ever hear Michael Jackson’s music the same way again?

-- As Steven Spielberg takes aim at Netflix’s Oscars eligibility, the battle lines are forming in Hollywood.

NATION-WORLD

-- “It looks like someone almost just took a giant knife and scraped the ground”: Scenes from the aftermath of a tornado in southeast Alabama that killed at least 23 people and picked up a house.

-- The Trump administration has closed the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem that has served as America’s de facto embassy to the Palestinians since the mid-1990s.

-- The next round of hostilities between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed nations, could be even scarier.

-- In Egypt, photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid went to work one day in 2013 and ended up in prison. He finally was allowed to come home this week.

-- Lawmakers in Russia want to create a “sovereign” online network that would effectively unplug its internet from the rest of the world. But doing so wouldn’t be easy.

BUSINESS

-- From video game to day job: How SimCity inspired a generation of city planners.

-- HBO will be led by an outsider for the first time in four decades as AT&T revamps WarnerMedia.

SPORTS

-- The Lakers have had a majorly disappointing season, but columnist Arash Markazi says it’s not time to point fingers at Magic Johnson or LeBron James … yet. Columnist Bill Plaschke sees it a bit differently.

-- In his first spring training game for the Angels, Kaleb Cowart hit a grand slam and embraced a two-way role.

OPINION

-- Stephon Clark’s killing at the hands of police in Sacramento was an injustice but not a murder.

-- Toilet to tap: Los Angeles needs to reclaim what we used to consider “wastewater.”

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

-- Fox News and the White House have a very cozy relationship. How cozy? Here’s the scoop. (New Yorker)

-- Indiana has its first national park: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. (Afar)

-- “The good, bad, and ugly public transit seat covers of the world.” Hey, Oslo is looking pretty sharp. (CityLab)

ONLY IN L.A.

The star ratings in the Michelin Guide are considered one of the most prestigious honors a restaurant can earn. But nearly a decade ago, the arbiters of haute cuisine decided L.A. just wasn’t worthy. “The people in Los Angeles are not real foodies,” said then-director Jean-Luc Naret. “They are not too interested in eating well.” Now Michelin appears to be eating its words: It’ll publish a guide to California restaurants that includes L.A. Perhaps with a side order of egg on its face.

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