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426 posts
  • 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board granted a conditional use permit, the county Board of Supervisors – responding to neighborhood opposition – rescinded the approval on the grounds that the proposed business violated a rule barring such facilities within 500 feet of homes, schools, other firearms shops and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.

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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.

  • Trump
A security officer in 2006 at Marina Centre in Singapore, the country where President Trump plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
A security officer in 2006 at Marina Centre in Singapore, the country where President Trump plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (Wong Maye-E / Associated Press)

The meeting place that President Trump and North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un choose for their historic summit isn’t what you would describe as a citadel of freedom.

The island nation of Singapore has been a one-party state since it gained self-rule in 1959. The governing People’s Action Party effectively controls the election process, the press is censored and individuals’ right to speak is circumscribed. It’s a law-and-order state with infamously harsh punishments for even minor behavioral offenses, best known perhaps for its practice of caning minor law-breakers and executing drug traffickers.

Its longtime prime minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew, jailed political opponents yet was widely regarded as a “benevolent dictator.” His eldest son is the country’s current prime minister. Granted, the United States has seen a few political dynasties of its own, but none wielding the singular power of Singapore’s leader.

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President Trump probably wouldn’t appreciate the comparison, but his nominee to head the CIA seemed to be channeling Barack Obama in some of her testimony at her Senate confirmation hearings.

  • Rule of Law
  • The Swamp
Gina Haspel, President Trump's nominee for CIA director, testifies at her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington on Wednesday.
Gina Haspel, President Trump's nominee for CIA director, testifies at her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington on Wednesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Before Gina Haspel testified at the long-awaited hearing on her nomination to be director of the CIA, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. From all accounts — including her own Wednesday morning — she’s been the consummate spy, having clandestinely collected intelligence in back alleys and dead drops in unspecified countries, then rising up the ladder at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. If in the course of her career she ran a black site in Thailand where terror suspects were tortured, maybe there was a way she could convincingly disavow what she did. 

Instead, I was offended by her refusal to answer Sen. Kamala Harris’ straightforward, crucial question: Did Haspel think what happened at those black sites was immoral? You could hear Haspel winding up the pitch for the long, meandering non-answer (an infuriating tradition among candidates for jobs at their confirmation hearings) when Harris (D-Calif.) cut her off with a blunt, “I’d like a yes or no answer.” Harris tried again, and Haspel dodged until finally saying she thought she had answered the question and Harris reminded her that she hadn’t.

We know that, as of this moment, it’s against the law for the CIA to run those kinds of interrogations and subject people to torture.  And Haspel did say at her hearing that it wouldn’t happen again on her watch. Well, sure, that’s the least she needed to say.