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Today’s Headlines: Should most middle-class households fear inflation?

Two people look at items in a refrigerated aisle in a market.
An employee helps a customer find the type of steak he wants at a grocery store in Silver Lake. U.S. consumer beef prices in January were up 16% from a year earlier.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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By Elvia Limón, Laura Blasey and Amy Hubbard

Hello, it’s Thursday, Feb. 17, a day after the Hollywood sign allegedly read RAMS HOUSE in commemoration of the Rams’ Super Bowl victory.

We say “allegedly” because several people on social media saw a completely different message, including HOLSHWOSE, RAMSLOSE, HOMSⱯWOGE, HAMSHOOSE. Some also pointed to the multiple instances of vandalism that made much more legible changes to the sign, including 2017’s HOLLYWeeD alteration. Was the remake a flop or a crowd-pleaser? Let us know your thoughts.

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Now, here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:

TOP STORIES

Are inflation fears justified for most middle-class households?

For millions of Americans, including families with at least a modicum of financial security, inflation has suddenly become the dominant influence on their outlook, personally and politically. For economists, the surge in public alarm over inflation is puzzling. By most measures, both the national economy and the personal economies of Americans are doing quite well.

Even so, inflation appears to have an outsize impression on consumers’ attitudes, in part because higher prices tend to have a direct and often visceral impact on people’s everyday lives.

Workers on the lower end of the income scale, who are hit hardest when inflation rises, have gotten the biggest bump up in earnings, especially in industries such as hospitality. But middle-income households may feel as if they got pay cuts.

More politics

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  • Voters would advance Rep. Karen Bass to the November runoff by a wide margin if the Los Angeles mayoral primary were today, according to a new poll.
  • Proxy voting was approved in May 2020 to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. But nearly two years into Congress’ first foray into allowing House members to vote remotely, lawmakers are using the practice for a wide array of reasons not originally intended.
  • San Francisco is quite familiar with earthquakes, and what happened Tuesday — the ouster of three extreme lefties from the Board of Education — was not one of those, writes columnist Mark Z. Barabak.

Sign up for our L.A. on the Record newsletter to get the lowdown on L.A. politics in this pivotal election year.

U.S. and NATO remain skeptical of Russian claims of troop withdrawals

American and European officials have cast doubt on Russia’s claims that it was withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border in an apparent attempt to defuse tensions that have unsettled the region and rekindled a Cold War-style standoff with the West.

“Unfortunately, there’s a difference between what Russia says and what it does, and what we’re seeing is no meaningful pullback,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on ABC News.

In addition to causing tens of thousands of deaths, a war between Russia and the former Soviet republic could disrupt international energy supplies and widen fault lines among global powers, increasing the chance for miscalculations that could lead to broader conflict.

In Latin America’s new Cold War, will China lift up autocrats?

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A new Cold War is brewing in Latin America between the U.S. and China amid a shifting global order driven more by economics and technology than by politics and ideology. Until recently, China’s activities had largely been focused on South America. But it has increasingly trained its sights on Central America, a region less rich in natural resources and with relatively little buying power, but one that sends a clear message to the U.S.

China sees a foothold in Central America as a strategic counterbalance to U.S. encroachments in Asia, notably Washington’s condemnation of Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong and China’s territorial claims over the self-governing democratic island of Taiwan.

In a remote corner of California, a state program successfully shelters homeless people

California’s spiraling housing crisis is often understood through the lens of its big cities, where the sheer number of people who need assistance can quickly capsize the programs designed to move people into housing. But before the pandemic, helping people find shelter in Del Norte County on California’s remote northern coast had been an insurmountable problem.

In October 2020, the state awarded Del Norte $2.4 million to buy a motel and turn it into affordable housing through Project Homekey, which helps counties buy old motels and other buildings and turn them into permanent housing. Today, the 30 motel rooms in Del Norte are among the more than 7,000 new housing units the state says it has created through the project in two years.

California just relaxed its mask rules. Here’s what changes and what stays the same

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On Wednesday, state health officials lifted a requirement that all residents age 2 and older wear masks in most indoor public spaces. While the vast majority of California counties have said they will follow that guidance, some — Los Angeles, Santa Clara and Mendocino — are retaining local universal indoor mask mandates, likely until at least next month.

Even under California’s relaxed rules, almost everyone — vaccinated or not — will still have to wear a mask when they’re in a place where healthcare is provided and while taking public transportation, among other locations. If you’re unvaccinated, California also requires masks when you’re indoors in a restaurant, retail store, movie theater, or other business, and when you’re inside a government building or other public setting.

More top coronavirus headlines

  • The Los Angeles Unified School District will keep its outdoor mask mandate in place for the rest of the week.
  • Los Angeles County has marked its 30,000th death related to COVID-19. The milestone came on Wednesday, when 102 deaths were reported, the second-highest daily death toll recorded in 11 months.
  • Federal health officials said they would soon update their guidance on mask wearing, even as several states have recently dialed back indoor mandates.

Stay up to date on variant developments, case counts and vaccine news with Coronavirus Today.

Our daily news podcast

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll love our daily podcast “The Times,” hosted every weekday by columnist Gustavo Arellano, along with reporters from across our newsroom. Go beyond the headlines. Download and listen on our App, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

Football players riding in a parade raise their arms and shout.
L.A.’s Super Bowl champions: Rams running back Darrell Henderson, left, running back Cam Akers and linebacker Justin Hollins wave to fans during the team’s victory parade in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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CALIFORNIA

Los Angeles D.A. modifies policy on juvenile cases. George Gascón has modified his blanket ban on trying juveniles as adults due to a pending state Supreme Court case and continuing backlash over a decision to allow a 26-year-old to plead guilty to sexually assaulting a child in juvenile court last month.

Cal State Long Beach faculty call on CSU chancellor to resign over a Fresno misconduct case. Members of the California Faculty Assn.’s Long Beach chapter don’t believe a Board of Trustees investigation is necessary to show wrongdoing in his handling of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment allegations.

A memo alleges that the Orange County D.A. made racist comments in the case of a Black defendant. At a meeting of top prosecutors on Oct. 1, Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said that he knows many Black men who date white women to get “themselves out of their bad circumstances and bad situations,” former O.C. prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh alleged in a memo.

Suge Knight’s attorney takes a plea deal and is barred for life from practicing law. Prosecutors originally accused Matthew Fletcher, 57, of conspiracy to suborn perjury, obstruct justice and bribe witnesses after obtaining a warrant to listen in on jailhouse phone calls between the attorney and Knight in 2015.

For California’s Uyghur community, the Winter Olympics are a slap in the face. In response to the human rights concerns, the U.S., Australia, Britain, Canada and other nations declined to send government representatives to the Games. To many Uyghurs, the diplomatic boycott wasn’t enough.

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NATION-WORLD

Hindu nationalism is threatening India’s status as a liberal democracy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party have long fanned anti-Muslim sentiment to galvanize support from Hindu voters. But violence and harassment of Muslims has intensified to the point that the country’s standing as the world’s largest democracy is being undermined and its future as a secular state is in doubt.

Ryan Zinke, Trump’s Interior secretary, misused his office and lied, investigators say. Zinke misused his position to advance a commercial development project that included a microbrewery in his Montana hometown and lied to an agency ethics official about his involvement, according to a report.

Second accused officer testifies in the federal civil rights trial over George Floyd’s killing. J. Alexander Kueng is the second of the former officers to testify. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged with violating Floyd’s constitutional rights when Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Bob Saget’s family is suing to stop the release of records related to his death. Relatives of the beloved “Full House” star filed a lawsuit in Florida to prevent investigators from releasing photographs and other materials. The complaint cites a belief that “certain news and media outlets have filed or plan to file public records requests.”

Here are the details on Vix. TelevisaUnivision unveiled Vix, the world’s largest Spanish-language streamer, in a virtual presentation. The streaming hub will include a free, ad-supported tier and a paid premium tier, with Spanish-language scripted and unscripted originals as well as live sports and news.

A new back-to-work deal requires boosters for vaccinated film crews. SAG-AFTRA, which represents more than 160,000 actors and other performers, told members that the industry’s return-to-work agreement had been extended until April 30 and updated to reflect changes in the pandemic.

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BUSINESS

Joe Rogan, $100 million. Richard Pryor, $0. What comedians’ suits against streamers say about a deeply flawed model. As of now, Pandora, Spotify and many others are paying only for the live performance of comedians’ material, not the creative material itself, which most comics would consider a bad joke.

SPORTS

Eileen Gu’s Olympic run launches her into stardom and the political fray. The California native has won two medals competing for China and is going for a third. But Gu’s success comes in tandem with a highly controversial Winter Games and an increasingly strained relationship between China and the U.S., directly challenging her insistence that sports, and her skiing career, are apolitical.

Tiger Woods says he’ll return to the PGA part time but doesn’t know when. Woods was in a car accident a year ago where he nearly lost his right leg. He has endured “countless surgeries and rehabs and [physical therapy] sessions,” but still appears months away from playing competitive golf.

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OPINION

Los Angeles lags on building electrification. Now is the time to ban new gas hookups. Gas-fueled stoves, water heaters, furnaces and clothes dryers are a major source of health-damaging and planet-warming emissions. But a lack of leadership at the state level has left the effort to ban gas to cities, leading to a patchwork of progress, The Times’ editorial board writes.

To stop Leimert Park’s gentrification, Black folks need to own more than just homes. A group of Black entrepreneurs trying to buy a commercial property reflect new thinking about what it’ll take to build wealth and save neighborhoods.

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ONLY IN L.A.

three young Latina women are flanked by two young Latino men between a white wall and a silver railing
The all-Latino members of the Familia Fuego content house include (from left) Jesus Zapien, Isabella Ferregur, Alexia Del Valle, Monica Villa and Leo Gonzalez.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Meet the five Latino TikTokers who traded 9-to-5s for a Hollywood Hills content house. As both Hollywood and the influencer economy wrestle with questions of diversity and representation, Familia Fuego is the rare project that’s unabashedly, wholeheartedly Latino. How many other influencers could get 50,000-plus likes on a video about pozole?

That they’re based out of a city that’s nearly half Latino — but in an extravagantly wealthy neighborhood where that proportion is closer to 10% — further colors the uneasy task the TikTokers have of representing their heritage while also making inroads into historically white career fields.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Nat King Cole smiles while seated at a piano.
Feb. 2, 1964: Nat “King” Cole plays the piano at home.
(Los Angeles Times)

Fifty-seven years ago this week, Nat “King” Cole died at age 45, cutting short a career that had gained him world renown. The singer and jazz pianist has four recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame: “Mona Lisa,” “The Christmas Song,” “Nature Boy” and “Unforgettable.”

Cole was immensely popular and had an international following; he was also the victim of several high-profile racist incidents: In 1956, he was attacked while onstage in Alabama by six white men associated with the KKK. After he moved his family to Hancock Park in 1948, firecrackers were set off in the rose bushes, their dog was poisoned, and a burning cross was put on the lawn, according to daughter Natalie Cole, also a successful singer. The elder Cole hosted a TV variety show, but it was canceled after a little over a year because corporate sponsors didn’t want to be associated with it. He famously said: “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”

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Before you go: a father-daughter duet by the Coles.

We appreciate that you took the time to read Today’s Headlines! Comments or ideas? Feel free to drop us a note at headlines@latimes.com.

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