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Opinion: 2018: Remembering a year worth forgetting

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(Grand Park / The Music Center)

Many readers would just as soon forget 2018 than relive it. There were plenty of new lows, much of them the work of the Trump administration. But there were encouraging developments too, if you looked for them. They were just harder to find.

Here’s a roundup of the year’s major events as seen through the eyes of The Times Editorial Board. We’ll start in January, when President Trump made the first of what would be several disruptive foreign-policy moves: formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announcing plans to move U.S. embassy there. This did not bode well for a peace deal with the Palestinians, we wrote:

The Middle East peace process was ailing well before Trump came into office; he and his son-in-law can hardly be blamed for that. But they need to understand that the bedraggled and much-maligned two-state solution remains at the moment the only realistic hope for resolving the conflict. If they want to move beyond empty bluster toward a fair and durable solution, they need to stop pandering to domestic audiences and get serious about bringing the parties back to the table for tough talks on thorny issues.

Later that month, Democrats forced the first of the year’s partial government shutdowns in a futile effort to force Republicans to agree to a permanent solution for “Dreamers,” then quickly — and wisely — folded:

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Hostage takers rarely win in this game, and playing it out longer only increases the pain inflicted on everyone else. So the smart thing for [Senate Minority Leader Charles E.] Schumer to do under the circumstances was to find a quick way out of the impasse, declare that progress had been made, end the filibuster and look for another way to press the Dreamers’ case.

The state Legislature, meanwhile, was pursuing a number of responses to the acute shortage of housing. The one that riveted the capital for months before ultimately being defeated was a bill by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), SB 827, that would have overridden local zoning rules to increase housing density around transit hubs. The editorial board acknowledged the need for more aggressive approaches, but not this particular one:

California clearly needs to make it easier to build housing. And it makes sense to concentrate new housing near mass transit to encourage people to get around without cars. Surely lawmakers can come up with legislation to push cities to approve taller, more dense housing near transit without completely overriding local control or undermining existing efforts to incentivize the building of affordable housing.

In early February, after a Times investigation highlighted problems in the “DROP” deferred retirement program for public safety officers in Los Angeles, the board weighed in:

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The justification for the DROP program is that it keeps experienced veterans on the job longer. But is the city really getting the bang for its buck when so many workers in the program are on paid leave, and the city has to backfill their shifts? Who knows? No one in City Hall has seriously studied the financial impact of DROP, despite numerous warnings that the program has flaws.

After a Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the board vented its frustration:

When does an epidemic stop being an epidemic and become just a basic part of regular life? It’s been 19 years since the nation was horrified by the carnage at Columbine in suburban Denver. It’s been just over five years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Quick: What was the most recent mass shooting incident (at least four wounded) at a school before the one on Wednesday? Here’s the sick part: There have been so many school shootings that it takes a bit of work to answer what should be an easy question.

The enduring homelessness crisis led the board to publish a week-long series of editorials exploring the roots and the responses:

There are few sights in the world like nighttime in skid row, the teeming Dickensian dystopia in downtown Los Angeles where homeless and destitute people have been concentrated for more than a century.

President Trump Trade war — starting with steel and aluminum tariffs in March

Trade wars, like shooting wars, are waged to inflict casualties. And like shooting wars, they tend to escalate. So the best approach is not to start one.

Separations — first remarked on that in March, before it became the official policy in May:

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These are not the actions of a humane government. To separate children from parents is unconscionable unless the child is at risk of harm. It becomes even worse when the separation comes as the family is asking for help and protection from the very people who then suddenly split them apart. This is just traumatizing the traumatized, and it needs to stop.

There were encouraging developments if you looked for them. They were just harder to find.

(May: When a desperate family fleeing violence in their homeland arrives at the border, what kind of heartless and inhumane nation would separate the parents from the children, prosecute the parents for crossing into the country illegally and send the kids off to a youth detention center?

Ours.)

Cambridge Analytica scandal at FB

Internet users need some measure of control over the information they reveal online, so that they are not unwittingly helping countless unseen data brokers, aggregators and analysts find new and better ways to steer their opinions, purchases and votes. A federal bill of rights covering online data would be a good place to start. How many outrages have to surface before the tech industry and the federal government start taking privacy seriously?

April

EPA abandons planned in crease in CAFE stds

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Every other government in the industrialized world recognizes that climate change is real and that it will take serious action now to minimize the devastating effects of global warming. The leading world economies also recognize that there is a much-needed shift from fossil fuel vehicles underway, and they are choosing to lead the transition to low- and no-carbon transportation systems.

Even automakers know this. That’s why most of them are already developing and marketing electric and hybrid models to sell around the world. Instead of making progress toward innovation and a cleaner future, Trump and Pruitt have chosen, irresponsibly and cynically, to keep this country guzzling gas and pumping out carbon.

More on Wiener:

Overruling local control ultimately means ignoring local voices. It robs residents and business owners of the right to shape their communities, and it assumes they and their representatives can’t be trusted to make decisions for the greater good. It undermines participation in local government.

Southern California Metropolitan Water District backs the two-tunnel solution:

Despite the costs, the risks and all the rest, the California WaterFix, as the tunnel project is known, remains the cheapest and least speculative option for Southern California to secure a continuing water supply as the combined effects of climate change, environmental mandates and increasing demands by other states and nations slow the flow of imported water to the region.

More on Cambridge Analytica — this time Zuck’s testimony

What’s missing is a baseline set of rules to ensure that all online sites, services and apps reveal what they’re collecting and why, and give people a meaningful say over whether and with whom their data is shared -- in plain English. That sort of transparency and control isn’t a threat to the advertiser-supported internet; users will no doubt continue to trade away some element of their privacy for content and services they value. But that exchange should be fair and fully informed, rather than simply an engine for the lucrative data-brokering business.

Garcetti unveils plan (April 16) to build shelters in each CD:

But his plans raised as many concerns as they addressed. What kind of shelters are these? Even if each shelter bed serves about four people over the course of a year -- as he hopes -- what about the rest of the 25,000 unsheltered homeless people in the city? And what’s the exit strategy for the hundreds or thousands of people who do get into shelters but are expected to leave after half a year at most?

May

Trump dumps Iran deal May 8:

But as alarming as the action itself was the deceitful and demagogic speech in which he attempted to justify it. It was virtually indistinguishable from the sort of rant Trump delivered on the campaign trail -- utterly uninformed by the sort of appreciation for complexity that experience confers on most occupants of the Oval Office. And much as we would like to think the president was motivated by a belief, however wrongheaded, that tearing up this agreement would lead to a better one, it’s hard to escape the suspicion that he was more influenced by a compulsion to besmirch the legacy of his predecessor.

Mid-May, USC, Dr. George Tyndall:

Any organization the size of USC is bound to have problematic employees. The issue is how the organization responds: Is it bad luck? Bad supervision? Or a bad organizational culture?

June

Mid-June summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un

For all the spectacle, the meeting was at best inconclusive. For all the gushing flattery Trump directed at a man universally known as a murderous despot, very little was actually decided or accomplished.

Late June, after Trump renounced policy of separating children from parents at teh border:

But his solution -- detaining entire families together while the adults face, in most cases, misdemeanor charges of illegal entry -- raises enormously troubling problems of its own. Innocent children do not belong in jails or detention centers, as a 20-year-old federal consent decree acknowledges.

July 2 signing of LeBron James

We won’t argue that winning more games or even a championship will boost the local economy -- in a city this size, economists say, the effect of a successful sports team is negligible. The broader benefit, if there is one, is psychological: James makes the Lakers relevant again, raising the hopes of millions of Angelenos who’ve spent the last five years’ worth of NBA playoffs waiting to see how the Lakers would do in the lottery that determines which crummy teams have the best draft picks. Count us among those whose hopes have been raised. Welcome to Los Angeles, LeBron.

Same day — Mexico elects left-wing populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as its president

Lopez Obrador rode to victory on a wave of widespread anger over graft and violence. If he makes headway against those problems, he will help create for the U.S. a stronger, more reliable neighbor and trading partner. Failure, though, will probably further destabilize not just his nation but also ours, exacerbating tension over immigration and undermining trade.

July 16 Trump summit with Putin in Helsinki

Of course dialogue between Russia and the United States -- on Syria, nuclear disarmament, Iran, Crimea and others matters -- is desirable, even essential. But the U.S. can carry on such communication without turning a blind eye to the extraordinarily serious issue of Russian interference in democratic elections here and elsewhere around the world. Fortunately, other members of the Trump administration see that clearly, as does Congress. But there is no substitute for presidential leadership on this issue. Trump made it depressingly clear on Monday that he is incapable of providing it.

August

Compromise bail-reform bill (SB 10) heads to a vote:

It’s not the bail reform bill that many reform advocates wanted or that the Los Angeles Times editorial page had hoped for. But if it becomes law, it will eliminate the unjust, un-American system of allowing a person’s wealth to determine whether he or she will be locked up before trial or walk free. It is therefore an important step forward.

Aug. 25 death of John McCain

The senators now giving tribute to McCain should revisit the warnings he gave over the years about the consequences of polarization and the recurring cycle of partisan payback. Sadly, there’s no indication that they’re willing to take his advice to heart.

Legislature came up with a wildfire package as notable for what it didn’t solve — the liability risks faced by utilities — as for what it did. But it did make some important steps on forest management, putting up $1 billion for thinning forests, cutting brush and setting controlled burns.

Even with $1 billion in new funding, the public sector can’t cover the cost of all the work that is needed -- the private sector has to step up. The challenge will be ensuring that environmental and public safety interests, not commercial interests, drive the state’s policies on forest management. Regardless, the era of benign neglect of the state’s forests has to come to an end.

Sept. 5 — Troubled DMV makes first in a series of revelantions about botched the motor-voter registrations — 23,000 this go-around.

This would this be the perfect time to launch a thorough audit of the DMV, its processes and its 1980s-era technology. Too bad the Democrats who lead the state Legislature recently killed a Republican bill that asked the state auditor to examine the DMV. The auditor can’t initiate a review on her own and the legislative session is over for the year, so that’s not going to happen anytime soon. At the time, legislators said they didn’t need an audit to know what was wrong with the DMV.

#MeToo claims Les Moonves in early Sept.

The length of time over which these alleged incidents occurred is a painful reminder of how long some men have been able to engage in such behavior, how difficult it can be for women to come forward, and how slow and painful is the process of reevaluating and revamping a culture that allowed harassers and predators to carry on.

Sept. 27 Kavanaugh hearing, we called for FBI investiation

Thursday’s hearing was riveting drama that offered Americans an opportunity to see the principals for themselves. But other than the passionate presentations of Ford and Kavanaugh, it was in many ways a charade. Democrats went on and on about Ford’s bravery and bashed Republicans at every opportunity; Republicans ceded their morning time to a prosecutor whose clear assignment was to find discrepancies in Ford’s story rather than elucidate the truth. The second part of the hearing involved a lot of political posturing, with a substantial amount of time spent on boofing, ralphing and grandstanding.

Later, after FBI probe didn’t settle the question of who was lying:

It’s entirely understandable that Kavanaugh would be angry about these accusations, assuming they’re not true, and about how they were handled. But in his testimony last week he went beyond righteous outrage to engage in a partisan rant utterly inappropriate for a sitting federal judge, let alone a nominee for the Supreme Court.

Governor’s election, mid-October:

The next governor will face a severe housing crisis, crumbling infrastructure, enormous unfunded pension liabilities, failing schools, rampant homelessness and regular mudslides, floods and mega-fires. California cannot afford a dilettante or an amateur. It needs a seasoned leader who is savvy and charismatic, politically adroit, compassionate and innovative.

Newsom is ready to be California’s next governor. Cox is not. It’s that simple.

Caravan:

The caravans are a drop in the immigration bucket and pose no significant risk to the United States. Nevertheless, they provided fodder this week for another presidential Twitter tantrum meant to rile up his nativist base -- “Great Midterm issue for Republicans!” Trump tweeted, later referring to the migrants, absurdly, as “Democrat Party led.”

Two weeks before election, suspicious, bomb-like devices were mailed to a host of people disparaged by Trump:

If it turns out that the devices, which fortunately harmed no one, were sent by a supporter of the president, Trump can of course argue that he never encouraged violence or criminality. But surely this kind of violence is the foreseeable outcome of our increasingly toxic politics, in which differences over issues have grown into walls, rage has replaced discourse, in which both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have recently been chased and cursed in the streets by angry opponents. And in which the president of the United States, far from bringing the country together, fans flames of fear, divisiveness and distrust through a rhetoric of bigotry and anger.

Nov. 7 - election results

The president will say almost anything -- true or untrue, responsible or reckless -- to win over voters. And to a disheartening extent, his words seemed to energize Republican voters and lift GOP candidates in some statewide races. But Tuesday’s results demonstrate that citizens can offer resistance to an unfit president by mobilizing voters and supporting exceptional candidates.

Nov. 8 Borderline Bar and Grill shooting in Thousand Oaks

No place seems safe. In recent years Americans have been gunned down en masse in schools and houses of worship, music venues and in their own homes. The shooters have been motivated by racism, by rage over politics, by mental illness; in some cases, their reasons remain inscrutable.

And the president would have us tremble in fear of immigrants.

Camp and Woolsey fires broke out days later

Contrary to President Trump’s remarkably callous tweets, “gross mismanagement” of the state’s forests is not the cause. There are no forests in Malibu. Some of the most damaging fires in recent years have swept through grasslands and brush. The reasons for California’s growing wildfire threat are complex, and the state needs a thoughtful, committed federal partner.

Later:

To rebuild Paradise as it was would be land-use malpractice. The question facing authorities is whether Paradise -- and other towns that have burned -- can be rebuilt to withstand the next, inevitable wildfire. If not, how does California relocate communities and restrict new construction while respecting property rights and not worsening the state’s affordable housing crisis?

Nov. 26 — Sheriff Jim McDonnell concedes to Alex Villanueva, who had no command experience. Lots of challenges, and some worrying statements — including a plan to eliminate the constitutional policing advisors McDonnell had put in place:

Eliminating the positions would look an awful lot like trying to turn the clock back to the Baca era. Such a move would be an early unforced error -- and a poor way to launch a new beginning at the Sheriff’s Department.

Re: looming shutdown, on Dec. 11:

But this debate isn’t about the best way to secure the border. It’s about the symbolism of the wall. To Trump, it’s the embodiment of his Fortress America approach to the world; to the more rational among us, it’s a terrible signal that the world’s greatest superpower has a bunker mentality.

Dec. 14, a federal judge in Texas ruled all of the ACA unconstitutional in “a tortured reading of the law.”

We get it -- there are plenty of Republicans who don’t like major features of the law and resent the way it was enacted. But the relentless, Wreck-It-Ralph attacks on it in Congress and the courts should have ended last year, when Republicans could get neither a pure repeal nor a repeal-and-replace plan through the Congress they controlled, even on a simple majority vote.

Mid-December, council approved about $167 million worth of tax breaks for Anschutz Engertainment Group to support a planned $1.2 billion expansion of the LA Convention Center and nearby hotel accommodations. One element — public-private partnership on the convention center’s expansion and operation.

This public-private partnership model is worth pursuing. Los Angeles has so far proven unable to effectively run the convention center itself. The center was outdated shortly after it was built, and a $500-million expansion in the 1990s that was supposed to pay for itself in tourism dollars did not. The city has to renovate the convention center, and it makes sense to have the private sector help do it.

LAUSD strike looms — UTLA sets a strike date after fact-finder issues a report

The union may see a strike as a way to send a “we’re mad as hell and we won’t take it anymore” message to legislators and the public, scaring voters into passing new taxes for schools and promoting new legislation to put the brakes on charter schools. It could work.

Or it could backfire, putting everyone at risk, including the union. Families might find the rancor so off-putting, and the strike so detrimental to their children, that those who can do so flee district schools for nearby districts, charter schools or private schools. Declining enrollment is already the biggest cause of revenue loss to the district; a strike could worsen that. The damage to public confidence in local schools could easily extend to teachers as well.

Both sides should sit down and make concessions to reach an agreement based on the fact-finders’ middle ground. Then they should go together to Sacramento and to the ballot to find new ways to bring money into the system -- money that can shore up the district’s unstable financing, hire more staff and raise salaries for hardworking teachers, who certainly deserve more.

In November, the deadliest fire on record struck Butte County, all but obliterating the town of Paradise. In the aftermath, the editorial board noted how communities around the state are going to have to confront some uncomfortable lessons from the fire:

A season of wildfires brought into sharp focus the perils we are creating for ourselves through lack of sustained and concerted effort to reduce carbon emissions, which we addressed back in the summer after the first of the year’s devastating infernos:

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-carr-fire-wildfires-climate-change-20180730-story.html

Then-Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions made it official in early May: The administration was bringing criminal charges against everyone entering the U.S. illegally. And when a family presented itself at the border, the administration decided to separate the parents from the children in an effort to deter more families from following suit.

The editorial board responded with a question and an answer:

A year after a horrifying revelation about the dean of USC’s medical school’s extracurricular drug use, another personnel scandal at the university — this time involving a gynecologist who may have mistreated patients for decades — led the editorial board to call in May for drastic change:

The university’s board of trustees announced later that month that Nikias had agreed to resign.

Charlie Beck’s departure:

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-beck-resigns-20180119-story.html

Bail reform:

Bail reform: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-bail-reform-20180622-story.html

Bail: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-bail-reform-20180821-story.html

Bail: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-bail-referendum-20180831-story.html

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-kavanaugh-vote-20181005-story.html

and mariel’s on the midterms:

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-congress-midterms-20180919-story.html

The courts seem to be the one branch of the federal government to perform as intended, by serving as a check on the president’s exercise of power. This was evident in cases ranging from immigration to allowing legal challenges to his apparent conflicts of interest:

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-trump-emoluments-census-citizenship-20180727-story.html

Well, ok! Meanwhile, regarding this year’s big developments, please consider bail reform. Especially the two most recent editorials. Michel Moore as new LAPD chief. Plan to restore three Central Valley rivers by killing off almond farmers. Election of Lopez-Obrador.

A major new nuisance made its way across in Los Angeles this year: Electric scooter rental services, whose motorized inventory piled up on sidewalks and in curbs around the city. But the editorial board defended the services in June, at least in concept:

jon.healey@latimes.com

Twitter: @jcahealey


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