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Today’s Headlines: California’s electric car revolution comes with risks

An aerial view of rows of new cars in a parking lot
Recently imported cars are parked after being unloaded at the Port of Los Angeles. They will be trucked, or put on trains, to be transported around the country.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:

TOP STORIES

California’s electric car revolution comes with risks

The precious cargo on the ship docked in San Diego Bay was strikingly small for a vessel built to drag oil rigs out to sea. Machines tethered to this hulking ship had plucked rocks the size of a child’s fist from the ocean floor thousands of miles into the Pacific.

The mission was delicate and controversial — with broad implications for the planet.

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Investors are betting tens of millions of dollars that these black nodules packed with metals used in electric car batteries are the ticket for the United States to recapture supremacy over the green economy and keep up with a global transportation revolution started by California.

Alongside his docked ship, Gerard Barron, CEO of the Metals Co., held in his hand one of the nodules he argues can help save the planet. “We have to be bold and we have to be prepared to look at new frontiers,” he said. “Climate change isn’t something that’s waiting around for us to figure it out.”

The urgency with which his company and a handful of others are moving to start scraping the seabed for these materials alarms oceanographers and advocates, who warn they are literally in uncharted waters. Much is unknown about life on the deep seafloor, and vacuuming swaths of it clean threatens to have unintended and far-reaching consequences.

California fires creating dangerous weather systems

Two fast-moving wildfires in California have chewed through nearly 100,000 acres while spewing noxious smoke, generating pyrocumulus clouds, lightning and other dangerous weather conditions and adding to the state’s growing wildfire misery.

The 5-day-old Dixie fire spanning Butte and Plumas counties has stymied fire crews as it continues to swell — doubling in size to 60,000 acres Tuesday with only 15% containment, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Pacific Gas & Electric said its utility equipment may have sparked the fire after an electric worker found two blown fuses and a tree leaning onto a power line conductor in the area near the ignition point of the blaze. The fire Monday grew so volatile that it generated its own pyrocumulonimbus cloud, which created its own lightning, said Scott Rowe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

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The vertically growing clouds are unstable and intensely hot, he said, noting that “they are dangerous on multiple fronts, mainly because there’s potential that you could see lightning develop underneath the fire, and that in itself could spark new fires.”

Meanwhile, the Tamarack fire near the California-Nevada border in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest ballooned in size, from 23,000 acres to nearly 40,000 Tuesday morning with 0% containment, according to the U.S. Forest Service. On Tuesday, a large pyrocumulonimbus cloud could be seen forming over the blaze.

Hospitalizations hit highest point in months

A spate of new coronavirus infections is striking California’s healthcare system, pushing COVID-19 hospitalizations to levels not seen since early spring — lending new urgency to efforts to tamp down transmission as a growing number of counties urge residents to wear masks indoors.

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Statewide, the number of coronavirus patients in the hospital more than doubled in the last month, and the numbers have accelerated further in the last two weeks.

Even with the recent increase, though, the state’s healthcare system is nowhere near as swamped as it was during the fall-and-winter surge. And many health experts are confident that California will never see numbers on that scale again, given how many residents are vaccinated.

But with the continued spread of the highly infectious Delta variant, which officials fear could mushroom in communities with lower inoculation rates, the next few weeks are key in determining how potent the pandemic’s latest punch may be.

The recent increases confirm that nearly everyone falling seriously ill from COVID-19 at this point is unvaccinated.

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More top coronavirus headlines

— Six more California counties are urging residents to wear masks in indoor public settings amid concerning upticks in coronavirus cases.

Hollywood workers may have to be vaccinated to work on union film sets under new COVID-19 safety requirements.

Pasadena will require all city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 once the shots receive federal approval. It is the first city to do so in Southern California.

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For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

Barrack charged with acting as agent of UAE

Thomas J. Barrack Jr., the chair of former President Trump’s inaugural committee and a prominent Southern California businessman and philanthropist, was arrested on federal charges that he and two associates were part of a years-long effort to shape Trump’s foreign policy as a candidate and later president, all to the benefit of the United Arab Emirates.

The indictment describes the three as being “tasked” by four UAE officials with influencing public opinion through media appearances; with molding the foreign policy positions of the campaign and later, the Trump administration; and developing “a back-channel line of communication” with the U.S. government.

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Barrack, 74, was also accused of obstructing justice and making several false statements in a 2019 interview with federal agents. The indictment alleges Barrack’s work directly impacted Trump’s behavior, including a 2016 speech that pledged work with “our Gulf allies” and a phone call Trump had while president with an unidentified UAE leader.

“Mr. Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset,” said a statement issued by Barrack’s spokesperson. “He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty.”

A spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Barrack — who has a net worth of $1 billion, according to Forbes — has been friends with Trump for the last three decades and he planned the president’s inauguration in early 2017.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

In July 1986, three veterans from three wars saluted during a protest against the sale of Veterans Administration land in West Los Angeles.

The photo below was taken during a series of protests against the proposed VA sale of 31 acres of its 164-acre hospital property on Sepulveda and 80 acres of a 442-acre VA complex adjoining Westwood. The proposed sale was part of a national asset sale aimed at reducing the federal deficit. Congress blocked the deal.

The then-Veterans Administration is now the Department of Veterans Affairs.

three men in uniform salute
July 23, 1986: World War II veteran Emmet Burke, 72, left, joined Korean War vet Charles Alderson, 52, and World War I vet Jack Coopersmith, 94, in a salute during a protest against the sale of Veterans Administration land.
(Thomas Kelsey / Los Angeles Times)

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CALIFORNIA

— Right-wing media helped to stoke outrage around the Wi Spa in Westlake and its policy toward transgender customers, leading to chaos in the streets. Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said that officials were investigating allegations of excessive force by officers during the protests.

— Faced with widespread fraud in California’s unemployment benefit system, state officials said they have hired former federal prosecutor McGregor Scott to serve as special counsel to assist in the investigations of bogus claims filed by international criminal organizations, prison inmates and others.

— A former university student pleaded guilty in San Diego Superior Court to shooting congregants at a Poway synagogue during a Passover service in 2019, killing one person and injuring three others.

Harvey Weinstein was being transported to Los Angeles and could make his first court appearance this week to answer charges that he sexually assaulted five women in Southern California between 2004 and 2013.

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NATION-WORLD

— Billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos joined the ranks of those who have gone to space — for a few minutes, at least — after embarking on a suborbital journey along with three others aboard his company Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket and capsule system.

— As Haiti plunges into deeper turmoil after the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, Haitian Americans in Miami are asking a confounding question: Who can we trust to fix the mess?

— No notable Republican has declared outright a challenge to President Biden in 2024. But plenty of them are flocking to Iowa, even if they’re keeping their ambitions quiet as former President Trump keeps them guessing about whether he’ll run.

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— Many in Japan had hoped the Olympics’ return to Tokyo would re-create for today’s young Japanese a rare moment of uncomplicated national pride. But that was before the pandemic arrived, adding stress to a generation that already has a reputation for being disengaged, fatalistic and uninterested in the outside world.

Belgium’s king and queen visited the flood-stricken town of Verviers to lead the nation in a minute of silence to remember those who died, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a second tour of the disaster zone in her country and pledged rapid help to those who lost nearly everything.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Netflix remains the dominant force in streaming but is losing ground to rivals. That’s the takeaway of a new report examining the company’s share of the streaming business.

— ViacomCBS and the production company co-founded by TV doctor Phil McGraw are facing allegations of racism on the medical show “The Doctors.”

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Britney Spears’ new attorney is getting down to business, saying he’s “moving aggressively” to have Jamie Spears removed from his position of authority over his pop star daughter.

— Los Angeles indie-rock lifers Surf Curse went from obscurity to scandal to a major-label deal in 10 months, thanks to TikTok.

BUSINESS

South Korea aims to have a bigger footprint in Hollywood. A deal for JTBC Studios to acquire a majority stake in the content arm of powerful talent agency CAA could be a major step.

— Southern California’s real estate market hit another historical peak in June, with home prices soaring to yet another all-time high, though analysts see the extreme bidding wars of the last year beginning to ease.

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SPORTS

Giannis Antetokounmpo ended what many are calling one of the greatest NBA Finals ever with 50 points and a championship Milwaukee waited 50 years to win again.

— The Oakland City Council did what the Athletics asked them not to do: vote to approve proposed terms for a deal that would keep the team in Oakland and allow them to build a waterfront ballpark.

— Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Cassius Marsh grew up in the world of trading card games, a passion he’s turned into a second livelihood as a shop owner.

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OPINION

— Tougher restrictions will inevitably lead to cries that constitutionally guaranteed rights are being violated, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that private businesses and employers are within their rights to mandate vaccines. It’s time to get tough on COVID-19 vaccine evaders, writes The Times’ editorial board.

— “It may feel unfair that individuals shunning the vaccine and masks could cause us all to have to mask up again. But until vaccinations are more broadly required, policies like the federal rule that everyone wear masks on planes, trains and buses is the most viable option,” writes Peter K. Enns and Jake Rothschild.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Patty Hernandez, a 23-year-old Amazon warehouse worker in Tracy, Calif., says she miscarried after pleading with her manager and human resources for lighter duty. (VICE)

— The Texas Senate has passed a bill to eliminate a requirement that public schools teach that the Ku Klux Klan is “morally wrong.” (HuffPost)

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ONLY IN L.A.

Car chases are an L.A. classic. But you know what other kind of pursuit is just as much a city signature? Animal chases. Since The Times began recording such stories well over a hundred years ago, animals domestic and exotic have gotten loose and been on the loose in L.A. We’ve had more than our share of these bust-outs, and columnist Patt Morrison writes that it has a lot to do with Hollywood.

Today’s newsletter was curated by Daric L. Cottingham and Laura Blasey. Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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