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Newsletter: Today: Calm, controlled and conservative

Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s performance in her confirmation hearings demonstrates why she’s such a favorite of social conservatives. But with the GOP on the brink of a 6-3 Supreme Court conservative majority, it’s trying to raise doubts that the court will overturn Obamacare.

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Calm, Controlled and Conservative

Poised and in full control over two days of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, showed why she has been a favorite of social conservatives and how she will be a formidable figure on a court expected to move toward restricting a woman’s access to abortion and strengthening religious liberty and gun rights.

Two years after Brett M. Kavanaugh’s explosive performance at his own confirmation hearing, Barrett’s was a study in contrast. She politely fended off questions from frustrated Democrats who asked her to discuss her views on the issues that divide the high court. She assured senators she aspired to be a justice, not a policymaker. But she gave no reason to doubt she will join a 6-3 conservative majority that could stand in the way of a Democratic Congress or administration.

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Even with Republicans on the brink of confirming that majority, they’re trying to raise doubt in voters’ minds — as healthcare plays an increasingly prominent role in the election — that a lawsuit they’re backing asking the Supreme Court to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act will succeed. Barrett fueled that effort this week, suggesting that despite her past criticisms of the 2010 law, she may not support striking it down. The GOP’s current effort to overturn it is to be heard a week after the election and could be the first argument with her on the court.

Could Texas Go Blue?

“It’s not become probable,” says one pollster of Joe Biden’s chances of winning the Lone Star State. “But it’s gone into the realm of the plausible.”

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For years Democrats have plotted and schemed and talked about flipping this Republican stronghold and seizing its electoral votes, a stockpile that is crucial for Republicans. Inevitably, they fell short — typically by a lot.

Biden is still a distinct underdog in a state where Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in more than two decades. But this time, it is not far-fetched to think he could carry it — a sign of the difficult straits facing President Trump and the growing opportunities for cash-rich Democrats aiming also to take the Senate and pad their House majority.

Several circumstances have converged to give Biden a shot. Texas is growing and changing, as hundreds of thousands of transplants arrive from bluer states and as Latinos gain political strength, and turnout efforts in hard-fought down-ballot races are giving his campaign a boost. But perhaps most important are the candidates themselves.

More Politics

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— Tonight, the evening originally planned for the now-canceled presidential debate, NBC News plans to put Trump before voters in a town hall event at the same time as Biden’s on ABC — creating an evening of dueling town halls and drawing intense backlash and accusations it was “bad for democracy.”

— Election day is more than two weeks away, but already more than 1 million Californians have returned their mail-in ballots, shattering records.

— Meanwhile, California Republicans are defying state elections officials, arguing that their efforts to use private ballot boxes to collect votes are within the bounds of state election law and vowing to continue.

— The Los Angeles Police Department has told officers they may need to reschedule any vacations around election day in case of possible protests or other unrest.

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A New Weapon Complicates an Old War

“We don’t see them,” says Katarina Abrahamyan, huddled with other women in a basement of the music school in Martuni, Azerbaijan. “We hear them.”

Drones have become a frightening new fixture in the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that erupted in late September after several years of relative calm. Hundreds have now died in more than two weeks of ferocious clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh, the ethnic Armenian enclave internationally recognized as belonging to Azerbaijan but ruled by an Armenia-backed separatist government.

The drones have turned the age-old hostilities from a bloody, bare-knuckled ground fight waged with infantry and Soviet-era ordnance into a deadly game of hide-and-seek against an all-too-patient, and often unseen, airborne enemy. Decades after a cease-fire was called, the drones have upended the calculus undergirding that status quo — especially for Azerbaijan, which has been dramatically upgrading its arsenal and has vowed to reclaim the Delaware-sized territory.

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The Bloody Damage of LAPD Projectiles

One man’s eye exploded when he was shot. Another lost eight teeth and part of his lip. A third had a bone around his eye fractured. Those injuries, inflicted by Los Angeles police on people gathered downtown Sunday after the Lakers’ championship victory, add to a growing list caused by hard-foam and other projectiles the LAPD calls “less lethal.”

Police say they are an effective way to disperse crowds that have become violent, but some of their claims, including that the rounds don’t “penetrate the skin” and that officers don’t aim at the head or other sensitive body parts, are under growing scrutiny. “There is absolutely not a safe way to use these projectiles,” said the surgeon who operated on the man whose eye exploded.

A series of recent incidents, some caught on video, have brought calls from activists that the LAPD stop using such weapons for crowd control and have placed pressure on the department to explain the injuries. A Times investigation into police force at mass protests this summer found multiple examples of people being badly wounded by the weapons. This week, Gov. Gavin Newsom released a report urging better communication and restraint by officers in controlling crowds.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

The Times called it “the ‘Rocky Horror’ of domestic architecture, ‘Gods and Monsters’ come home to roost.” But most refer to the unusual home at Walden Drive and Carmelita Avenue in Beverly Hills as the Witch House or the Spadena House.

It was built in 1921 as a movie set but later moved to Beverly Hills and turned into a real home. Early on, it became a tourist attraction, much to the displeasure of Lilian Lascalle, who lived in it until the 1960s. Tour buses would stop by, and postcards featuring the home were made — all without Lascalle’s permission and input, according to a 1938 Times story.

“It makes the ordinarily amiable Mrs. Lascalle so mad that she almost cries when she talks of it,” The Times reported. “I don’t know what I can do about it,” it quoted her as saying. “But if I find anything I can do, I am going to do it. You wait and see.”

The Spadena House, also known as "the witch's house," in October 1977. The house is located in Beverly Hills.
Oct. 1977: Spadena House, also known as “the witch’s house,” located at Walden Drive and Carmelita Avenue in Beverly Hills. The storybook house was once on a movie lot in Culver City.
(Mary Frampton / Los Angeles Times)
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CALIFORNIA

Santa Ana winds will bring elevated and locally critical fire weather conditions to Southern California on Thursday into Friday, and in Northern California, widespread red flag fire warnings will be in effect for extremely dry, gusty, north-to-northeast winds — critical fire conditions — through Friday.

— The coronavirus is spreading faster in Los Angeles County, with the rate of new cases expected to increase in the coming weeks, officials said Wednesday.

— The California Supreme Court has ordered a trial judge to consider whether Scott Peterson’s convictions for murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son should be overturned. His death sentence was overturned on appeal earlier this year.

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— There’s been another jet pack sighting at LAX. Airport officials are again investigating reports of someone wearing a jet pack in the flight path, the second such report in a little over a month.

Beverly Hills has formally banned Halloween trick-or-treating, citing the risk of coronavirus spread.

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NATION-WORLD

— A large national study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics provides some of the clearest evidence yet that child care centers don’t hasten the spread of the coronavirus, even in communities where overall infections are high.

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— Coronavirus infections are surging again in the region of northern Italy where the pandemic first took hold in Europe, renewing pressure on hospitals and healthcare workers. The country on Wednesday posted its highest daily number of new cases, surpassing the high recorded during the deadliest phase in March.

— This year’s nationwide protests over police brutality and racial injustice have shaped ballots across the country, with measures that have clear racial themes from Rhode Island to California.

Amy Cooper, the white woman charged with filing a false police report for calling 911 on a Black birdwatcher in New York’s Central Park, made two calls — not just one — to emergency services, claiming falsely that he was threatening or assaulting her, prosecutors said.

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn is the world’s richest king. A pro-democracy movement is calling for greater transparency into the monarchy’s mysterious finances and limits on its extensive powers. On Thursday, Thai police dispersed pro-democracy protesters demanding the prime minister’s resignation, and he declared a “severe” state of emergency in the capital.

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HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— A new drive-through play from Shia LaBeouf, Bobby Soto and Donte Johnson’s theater company chronicles a single day at a coronavirus test site in South L.A.

“Mario Kart Live’s” augmented reality tops “Pokémon Go” and makes home a playground, even this far into a pandemic, writes games critic Todd Martens.

— Netflix released the first trailer for Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” an adaptation of J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoir starring Amy Adams and Glenn Close.

— Veteran character actress Conchata Ferrell, who played Berta in “Two and a Half Men” and appeared in dozens of other TV series and films including “Erin Brokovich,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Mystic Pizza,” has died. She was 77.

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— The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees will expand its diversity committee and hire a consultancy to improve representation in its ranks.

BUSINESS

— Facing pressure to crack down on rampant disinformation on their platforms, Facebook and Twitter have deployed their tougher new policies against the New York Post to prevent a sensational story about Joe Biden’s son Hunter from going viral. Facebook said it would curb its distribution until it was verified by a third-party fact-checker; Twitter blocked users from sharing it.

— Sen. Elizabeth Warren sharply attacked Disney for its plans to lay off 28,000 people, accusing it of prioritizing executive pay and shareholder interests while “hanging its front-line workers out to dry.” Disney said she was “misinformed.”

Randy’s Donuts is coming to Costa Mesa, but its iconic giant doughnut sign may crumble the city’s design standards.

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SPORTS

— Riding the wave of a seven-run burst over the final three innings of Game 2, the Dodgers erupted for a record-setting 11 runs in the first inning Wednesday to launch a historic 15-3 rout of the Atlanta Braves.

— By all accounts, the NBA bubble was a safety success, with a full season and no cases. But it also came with feelings of isolation and personal strain, even for the champion Lakers.

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OPINION

— The scariest thing about Trump’s ugly embrace of eugenics is not the fact that he holds those views but that there is no shortage of Americans who share them. We must fight back before history repeats itself, writes Adam Cohen.

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— As intense wildfires spread, wildland firefighters are the ones paying the price for others’ climate change denial, writes UC Santa Barbara’s Jordan Thomas.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Efforts to house homeless people in hotels have been met with resistance in wealthy neighborhoods that otherwise consider themselves progressive. In New York’s Upper West Side, residents discovered just how thin the line between NIMBY and MAGA is when right-wing media took up their cause. (Curbed)

— The border is still closed due to COVID-19. So much for Canadian snowbirds’ winters in the American Sun Belt. (Wall Street Journal)

ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

It’s been 214 days since Disneyland closed amid a spreading pandemic and new state regulations. But Disney isn’t the only one eager to see the Anaheim park reopen. For Disneyland’s superfans, waiting has been agony, and nothing — not YouTube videos of old parades, not Disney trivia nights — has come close to recapturing the magic.

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