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Today’s Headlines: Trump’s Christmas chaos

President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

One veto and the threat of another one, along with a slew of pardons, means no quiet Christmas in national politics.

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Trump’s Christmas Chaos

President Trump is at his Mar-a-Lago resort for the Christmas holiday, but as he left Washington on Wednesday, he engaged in two battles with Congress and issued a new round of pardons, including for advisors who had lied on his behalf.

Trump vetoed the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes a vast array of military programs and includes a 3% pay increase for service members. Trump said he did so because Congress had not included an extraneous measure he backs that targets social media companies, and because he opposed a provision to rename military bases that were named after Confederate generals.

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Congress had overwhelmingly passed the bill, and that sets the stage for a possible override of Trump’s veto, which would be a first for this president.

Trump also has kept Democrats and Republicans guessing on whether he will veto a $2.3-trillion year-end spending bill that congressional leaders of both parties had negotiated with his Treasury secretary. Trump demanded Congress approve $2,000-per-person relief checks, rather than the $600 checks the bill includes.

That has opened the door for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring a measure to the floor that would provide the checks demanded by Trump — and put congressional Republicans in a tight spot.

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Meanwhile, Trump continued his string of pardons, bringing the two-day total to 41 and wiping felonies from the records of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, two political advisors who were convicted in the Russia investigation, as well as for Charles Kushner, father of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a top White House advisor. The elder Kushner served more than a year in prison after pleading guilty to tax fraud, witness retaliation and making false statements to federal election officials.

The pardons were not surprising, given Trump’s penchant for them, but that didn’t lessen the outrage among his critics. Likewise, Trump’s pardons on Tuesday of four Blackwater security guards who killed 17 Iraqi civilians — including two children — reignited anger over one of the most disturbing episodes in the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

More Politics

— As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to tackle the devastating COVID-19 pandemic killing thousands of Americans a day, he has given his health team another, equally challenging task: rooting out entrenched racial inequalities in American healthcare.

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— An election-systems worker at Colorado-based Dominion Voting Systems who’s been driven into hiding by death threats has filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump’s campaign, two of its lawyers and some conservative media figures and outlets.

A Coronavirus Hot Zone

Hospitals across California are being overwhelmed by the surge in coronavirus, but the conditions in San Bernardino County and the greater Inland Empire are particularly acute. Cases of the coronavirus are now growing faster in San Bernardino County than in any other county in California, according to The Times’ tracker.

Experts and public health officials said there are several factors that have made the county so vulnerable to COVID-19. Like Los Angeles County, San Bernardino is home to many essential workers and some dense working-class Latino communities where the virus has spread. Data shows poorer, more non-white parts of the Inland Empire are among the areas being disproportionately hit hard.

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But San Bernardino County has also been more resistant to state mandates than L.A., with officials clashing with Gov. Gavin Newsom over the latest stay-at-home order.

Purgatory Without a Port

So many images now vie to define the time of COVID-19: Zoom grids. Ghost-town capitals. Infection trend lines. But in the early days of the pandemic, it was a cruise ship. The Grand Princess set sail from San Francisco on Friday, Feb. 21, with some 2,500 passengers and 1,100 crew members. It was supposed to be a 15-day cruise to Hawaii.

As vacationers tell The Times — reflecting on the experience nine months later — they gathered in crowds at the buffets, grills and pizzerias and lifted cosmopolitans and lemontinis at the bars. Meanwhile, the new plague multiplied invisibly among passengers and crew.

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Within days, the ship was circling off the California coast, trying to get home — a 949-foot, 108,000-ton floating purgatory without a port.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— California has now recorded more than 2 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic — the first state in the nation to reach that alarming milestone.

— Los Angeles County reported its deadliest day yet in the COVID-19 pandemic — and officials warn the toll will only continue to climb unless residents take steps to blunt the rampant surge.

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— Pfizer and BioNTech will supply the U.S. with an additional 100 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine under a new agreement. The drugmakers said that they expect to deliver by July 31 all the doses covered by the nearly $2-billion deal.

— Thousands of families are being forced to choose whether they should hope a loved one with severe COVID-19 lives or help them die. The Harris family is one of them.

— While crowds are out shopping, at L.A.’s hospitals, “It feels like we’re drowning,” one pulmonologist told columnist Steve Lopez.

An Ounce of Prevention?

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When the pandemic blew a hole in California’s spending plans last spring, one of the things state budget-cutters took an axe to was wildfire prevention.

A few months later, the August siege of dry lightning turned 2020 into a record-shattering wildfire year. The state’s emergency firefighting costs are expected to hit $1.3 billion, pushing the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s total spending this fiscal year to more than $3 billion.

The numbers highlight the enormous chasm between what state and federal agencies spend on firefighting and what they spend on reducing California’s wildfire hazard — a persistent gap that critics say ensures a self-perpetuating cycle of destruction.

Editor’s note: Due to the holiday, there will be no Today’s Headlines newsletter on Friday. Expect the next edition in your inbox on Monday.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

A white Christmas in Sherman Oaks? Not likely this year, but if you must have one, there’s always the DIY route.

In 1978, Paul Ricoletti, owner of North Hollywood Ice Co., put his expertise and equipment to work. He generated enough delicately shaved ice to cover his yard, make a snowman and allow his children to have a snowball fight.

According to The Times, Ricoletti wanted to do something special for his daughter, who had been recently hospitalized after a traffic accident.

Three children laugh and have a snowball fight behind a snowman in a snow-covered yard in Sherman Oaks.
Dec. 25, 1978: Paul Ricoletti, owner of North Hollywood Ice Co., dedicated this winter scene to daughter Kathy, who was recently hospitalized after a traffic accident and spent Christmas recuperating at home. Ice machines created material for snowball fights by family members.
(Bill Varie / Los Angeles Times)
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YOUR WEEKEND

— Here are eight TV shows perfect for watching with your family during the holidays.

— There’s still time to put together the perfect holiday dessert. The Times has 70 recipes to help you get started.

— Looking for a pandemic-safe way to attend church? Here’s where to find Christmas services online.

— Give yourself the gift of therapy. Mental health experts share how to get started.

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CALIFORNIA

— Aided by activists armed with bolt cutters and drills, poor families have descended again and again on vacant homes in L.A.'s El Sereno neighborhood. Tensions are rising between new and old neighbors as housing officials figure out what to do with the state-owned homes.

— Billionaire bond investor Bill Gross and his girlfriend were found by a Orange County Superior Court judge to have harassed their neighbors with the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song and other loud music in an ongoing dispute over a $1-million outdoor lawn sculpture.

— A COVID-19 patient beat a fellow patient to death with an oxygen tank last week at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, authorities said. The suspect reportedly became upset when the victim started to pray.

— Christmas week is bringing red flag warnings to Southern California, with a wildfire threat likely to last until noon Thursday.

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NATION-WORLD

— The Trump administration has quietly and steadily steered America’s nuclear weapons industry to its largest expansion since the end of the Cold War, increasing spending on such arms by billions of dollars with bipartisan congressional support.

— The COVID-19 pandemic has finally reached every continent on Earth. Chilean authorities announced that at least 58 people who were at two military bases in Antarctica or on a navy ship that went to the continent tested positive for the coronavirus.

— Living in space can get lonely. What helps? Talking to random people over ham radiothat’s why it’s a favorite hobby of astronauts.

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HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— What happened to Maria Bartiromo? The veteran Fox News anchor has doubled down on disproven claims of voter fraud, planting herself firmly on an island in the media world that is getting lonelier by the day.

John Outterbridge, a central figure in the Black assemblage arts movement and former director of the Watts Towers Arts Center, has died at 87. He was known for evocative sculptures made from found or discarded materials.

Carey Mulligan holds together the wild revenge-thriller provocations of the film “Promising Young Woman,” critic Justin Chang writes.

— A pro skater’s novel rides the triumphs and wipeouts of a precarious career.

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BUSINESS

— The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 89,000 last week, but layoffs remain elevated. Consumer spending also fell in November, the first decline since April.

— The owner of Avalon Nursery & Ceramics transformed a dusty lot 33 years ago into South Los Angeles’ only enduring nursery.

SPORTS

— Which Jared Goff will show up in the Rams’ showdown against the Seahawks this Sunday?

— The Lakers’ early formula: Be mindful of minutes for LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

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OPINION

— The holidays are hard on the families of COVID-19 patients. Writer Carrie Friedman dreams of breaking her ill father out of the nursing home where he’s cut off from the rest of the world.

Alex Padilla’s Senate appointment marks a new chapter in California politics. It’s about time, writes George Skelton.

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WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— In his final days in office, the president is unhappy, unleashed and unpredictable. (New York Times)

— The secret to surviving the holidays without family? Creating new traditions, as plenty of LGBTQ people can attest. (The 19th)

ONLY IN L.A.

Ed Krieger, who recently died at 73, performed in musical theater, movies, TV, commercials and voiceover. But it was the stage that he loved best — as an actor and as the go-to photographer for dozens of 99-seat theaters in the L.A. area. The theater world relied on him for production stills, publicity photos, poster prints, head shots and marketing brochures, and his work appeared alongside countless stage reviews in The Times. As one publicist put it, “He’s one of the most recognized names in L.A. theater, more so than some actors or directors, because he worked for everyone, and he always came through with that money shot.”

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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