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426 posts
  • Trump
President Trump waves as he arrives for the 37th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service Tuesday in Washington.
President Trump waves as he arrives for the 37th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service Tuesday in Washington. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Tuesday morning, as the news media kept their focus on the protests and the mounting death toll in Gaza, the president tweeted about his public image here in the United States:

Although he might have been referring to private polls by his campaign organization, his comment is supported by the trend lines in public polls. It’s still true that more Americans disapprove of his performance than approve of it, but the gap is narrowing.

Why? You could make the argument that he’s been visibly keeping his campaign promises, such as his pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from (noncontroversial) Tel Aviv to (hotly disputed) Jerusalem and to ease regulation on U.S. businesses. But that’s more likely to appeal to his political base than to the broader American majority.

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  • We're All Doomed

White people, could you stop calling the police every time you see a black person doing something ordinary?

It used to be that white people only called the cops on young black men in hoodies walking down dark streets at night. (Still not a crime, but, in urban America, seemingly closer to a crime.)  Now, we have an alarming rash of police calls on black people doing innocuous and innocent things. Or maybe this was always happening but now people have smartphones to record the incidents.

There was the white Starbucks employee who called the police on two black men sitting at a table waiting for a business associate to arrive for a meeting before they ordered.  The men were arrested but never charged.  (The employee no longer works there.)   

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  • Trump
A Palestinian demonstrator throws back a tear gas grenade at the Qalandya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday.
A Palestinian demonstrator throws back a tear gas grenade at the Qalandya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday. (Alaa Badarneh/EPA/Shutterstock)

At least 55 Palestinians dead in the Gaza Strip, 2,700 wounded. Is anyone surprised by this turn of events? If you are, you shouldn’t be.

It was inevitable. The peace process is moribund, and with it the hopes of the approximately 2 million people crammed into this narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean between Israel and Egypt. According to Alexandra Zavis in Monday’s Times, much of the water in Gaza today is undrinkable. Most homes get only a few hours of electricity each day. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Half the population is unemployed. Every few years there’s a new round of violence, usually involving rockets fired by militants into Israel, followed by a devastating Israeli counter-assault.

So what surprise is there that Palestinians in Gaza are without hope, fantasizing about a homeland they’ve never seen, willing to cross the border fence and face down better-armed Israeli soldiers in futile protest?

  • Guns and Ammo
  • Rule of Law
The Supreme Court let stand an appellate decision that the 2nd Amendment does not confer a right to sell firearms.
The Supreme Court let stand an appellate decision that the 2nd Amendment does not confer a right to sell firearms. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Sometimes a nondecision can be a good thing.

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a case based on the argument that the 2nd Amendment guarantees a right to sell firearms. The case (read the petition here) was brought by three men who wanted to open a gun store in Alameda County. After the zoning board granted a conditional use permit, the county Board of Supervisors – responding to neighborhood opposition – rescinded the approval on the grounds that the proposed business violated a rule barring such facilities within 500 feet of homes, schools, other firearms shops and liquor stores.

The plaintiffs interpreted the vote as a ban on gun sales (it’s not; other gun shops already exist in the area) and they and supporters argued that the 2nd Amendment not only confers a right to own guns but to sell them. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and the Supreme Court’s refusal to grant a hearing leaves in place the appellate court’s decision that there is no 2nd Amendment right to sell a firearm.

A betting line at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas is shown. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday opened the door to more legal sports betting.
A betting line at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas is shown. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday opened the door to more legal sports betting. (Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. Supreme Court did more than just open the door to more wagering on pro and college games Monday when it declared unconstitutional a 26-year-old law barring states from authorizing gambling on sports. The justices took an important step to limit Washington’s power over the states and their vaunted laboratories of democracy.

But don’t get your hopes up. Although the ruling says, in essence, that the feds can’t simply tell state legislatures what to do, it doesn’t touch the federal government’s power to regulate on its own. So if Congress chooses, it may well be able to close the betting window on sports outside the few places where it’s already legal.

[Update, 12:34 p.m.: The race is on! One California lawmaker has already proposed to amend the state Constitution to allow sports betting. If two-thirds of the Assembly and the Senate agree, the measure would go to voters as soon as November. Moves like that are bound to prod anti-gambling forces to try for a federal ban ASAP.]

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Elon Musk says the Boring Co. is close to finishing its first tunnel “under L.A.,” and will be offering free rides to the public in a few months. 

A few months, huh? Not under the city of L.A., it won’t.

The Boring Co. is currently digging a two-mile test tunnel in and around Musk’s SpaceX company headquarters in Hawthorne. It’s the first step in a plan to build a network of tunnels under the region in which electric platforms (“skates”) could move cars and pods of people at high speeds and avoid L.A.’s notorious traffic.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar looks on as President Trump speaks about drug prices at the White House Friday.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar looks on as President Trump speaks about drug prices at the White House Friday. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

President Trump unveiled his long-awaited blueprint Friday for lowering the price of prescription drugs, and it’s not bad, considering the ideological boundaries involved. This is a Republican administration, after all, so it’s not about to call for Washington to set (or even regulate) drug prices. Instead, Trump’s plan seeks to increase competition, improve insurers’ negotiating leverage with drugmakers, reduce the incentives that some doctors and hospitals have to use expensive drugs, and (this is the really interesting one) explore having federal programs pay for drugs based on their value to patients and  their effectiveness.

I don’t like price controls, so I don’t fault Trump for not proposing them. But having decided to stick to the free-market pathway, Trump shouldn’t complain about other countries using price controls to their own advantage.

And yet, that’s what he did in his Rose Garden announcements. Trump characterized foreign governments’ control over drug prices and availability as a way to “extort” low prices and stick Americans with the tab for drugmakers’ costly research and development efforts. That amounted to “freeloading,” Trump said, promising to address the issue in trade talks “with every trading partner.”

  • The Golden State
  • Election 2018
Antonio Villaraigosa
Antonio Villaraigosa (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

This week, the Los Angeles Times published its endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa as California’s next governor.  And some of you may be thinking we made our choice because of the L.A. connection.

Nope. That’s not at all how the endorsement process works. If it were, we wouldn’t need a staff of editorial writers and I wouldn’t have a job. In fact, our long familiarity with our former mayor, as seen through the deep archive of stories and editorials examining every achievement and failure of the first Latino mayor in modern L.A. history, was probably more of a liability to Villaraigosa.

Editorial writers and boards don’t often explain how we come to the conclusions we do, but maybe we should so that readers understand that we don’t make these decisions idly. I know that, on average, I spend more time on endorsement editorials than your average policy editorial, even super-wonky ones.

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  • The Witch Hunt
  • The Swamp
Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney, leaves federal court in New York on April 26.
Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney, leaves federal court in New York on April 26. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Crack all the jokes you want about Michael Cohen making a mockery of the Trump campaign’s rhetoric about draining the swamp. I am totally in awe of the man.

For starters, he took Essential Consultants, a company he created in October 2016 to funnel $130,000 in hush money to porn actress Stormy Daniels, and turned it into a business opportunity: selling insights about his client, the surprise winner of the following month’s presidential election. That’s agile leadership.

Even better, he persuaded some deep pocketed corporations to pay heavily for Essential’s services, even though he appears to have little to no expertise in the relevant fields. Novartis, the Swiss drugmaker, ponied up $1.2 million for a year’s worth of insights about the new administration, but says it met with Cohen only once. Nice!

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released more than 3,500 Facebook ads purchased from 2015 to 2017 by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency. A few things are apparent right away — the oddly formal phrasing that reads almost like the work of a machine, the hostility to the establishment, the thread of outrage or division (often expressed as racial, ethnic or regional pride) running through every post, regardless of the topic.

The overall impression isn’t just cynical manipulation, though. It’s nihilism. It reminded me of this sequence from “The Dark Knight”:

Sure, the Internet Research Agency’s minions practiced some of the usual negative-campaign tactics, running ads that directly attacked Hillary Clinton in the run-up to the election (and afterward). But a more enduring aim, evidently, was to make Americans more discontented, less united and less confident in U.S. institutions.