Today’s Headlines: Karen Bass’ free USC degree pulls her into a federal corruption case

A woman in a pant suit stands outdoors and speaks to a crowd, one of whom holds a "Karen Bass for Mayor" sign.
Rep. Karen Bass talks to supporters in L.A. in February.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

By Elvia Limón and Jason Sanchez

Hello, it’s Thursday, Sept. 8, and before we dive into our top stories, we’d like to highlight some amazing investigative work by our colleagues, a series of stories on the reality of legal weed in California — how Proposition 64 triggered a massive surge in illegal cannabis and the toll that’s taken.

Times staffer Paige St. John told us: “Heading into this project, I knew from my frequent travels that California is besieged by outlaw cannabis farms, but it wasn’t until I started knocking on doors that I understood how much these illegal operations have traumatized those who live next door. I met people afraid to tell their stories even anonymously, or who would only speak indoors, fearful the growers next door would realize they were talking to a reporter. Likewise, I was astonished to find workers dying in every county where I pulled coroner reports, suggesting we are just scraping the surface of a very serious problem. It made me realize that there’s a hidden cost to cannabis that consumers don’t necessarily see or understand.” Read more here.



Karen Bass’ free USC degree has pulled her into a corruption case

During the last decade, two influential Los Angeles politicians were awarded full-tuition scholarships valued at nearly $100,000 each from USC’s social work program.

One of those scholarships led to the indictment of former L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the former dean of USC’s social work program, Marilyn Flynn, on bribery and fraud charges. The other scholarship recipient, Rep. Karen Bass, is the leading contender to be L.A.’s next mayor.

Federal prosecutors have made no indication that Bass is under criminal investigation. But prosecutors have now declared that Bass’ scholarship and her dealings with USC are “critical” to their bribery case and to their broader portrayal of corruption in the university’s social work program.

More politics


  • News of hundreds of missing classified documents recovered from former President Trump’s home has the intelligence community reeling and the public asking: “How could it happen?
  • President Biden welcomed the Obamas back to their former home for the official unveiling of their portraits — a ceremony that was in many ways a lighthearted, happy reunion.
  • The U.N. atomic watchdog believes Iran has further increased its stockpile of uranium that is highly enriched to one short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels.

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California fires kill people before they can escape

The Fairview and Mill fires brought the year’s wildfire death toll to nine, including four killed in Northern California’s McKinney fire and one in Petaluma’s Roblar fire earlier this summer. Officials say the sobering number underscores how the state’s climate change-fueled blazes are outpacing emergency alert systems and posing new threats to residents.

The frequency of the danger also appears to be accelerating: Eleven of the state’s 20 deadliest fires have occurred since 2000, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Of those, seven have occurred since 2017.

That’s partly because it’s getting harder to reach residents — or even warn them — as fires move faster than ever because extreme heat and drought are priming the landscape to burn. Most of the fatalities this year happened within the first hours of the fires.

Californians saved energy after a text, averting blackouts

About 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, millions of Californians’ cellphones lighted up with a new type of emergency alert: “Conserve energy now to protect public health and safety.” That text message warning proved critical in helping avoid rolling blackouts during a grueling heat wave, one that has taxed the state’s power grid for more than a week, according to California officials.

Just about 30 minutes before the wireless emergency alert went out, the California Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s power grid, was readying local utility providers for blackouts. The state had just reached record-setting electricity demand, and officials said energy use was not decreasing until that alert was issued.

How to get Omicron boosters in California

Updated COVID-19 booster shots targeting the latest dominant Omicron subvariants are here and available at numerous locations. L.A. County has already preordered about 170,000 doses and expects to receive them between Tuesday and Friday.

CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid are among the pharmacies that say they’re offering the new boosters. Appointments can be made on their respective websites. The L.A. County Department of Public Health said the updated booster was available at hundreds of sites countywide. L.A. County residents can look up locations here or call (833) 540-0473 between 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., seven days a week. Here’s our full guide to getting a booster.

More top coronavirus headlines

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

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is jolting Germany

Despite Germany’s strong postwar tradition of pacifism, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly seven months ago shocked the public into thinking very differently about national defense.

Three days after the war began, Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivered a speech dubbed “Zeitenwende,” or watershed. With a single stroke, Germany embarked on the hitherto unthinkable: pledging to send heavy weapons to Ukraine and promising a $100-billion cash infusion for the military.

Those moves appear to have solid public backing. The country has also absorbed a flood of Ukrainian refugees. And according to a survey by the opinion-data firm Civey, nearly a third of Germans say they have a better image of the Bundeswehr, Germany’s federal defense forces, than before the Ukraine war.

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A car drives near flames
Close call: A motorist drives past flames from the Fairview fire along Batista Road near Hemet on Tuesday. Read: Fairview fire near Hemet that has killed 2 nears 20,000 acres.”
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)


Can a hurricane in Mexico bring relief to the SoCal heat wave? Hurricane Kay is predicted to deliver a moisture surge to Southern California starting Friday. Forecasters are predicting humidity, “areas of rain” and potential flash floods, possible high winds and hazardous currents throughout the weekend.

Hot and angry parents are hammering the LAUSD for shade and even cool water for kids. Reclaim Our Schools has called for improvements including: reducing pavement at 10 additional schools each year through 2040 beyond the district’s existing commitments, making all schools 50% green space, using electric-powered school buses and installing electric vehicle chargers at every school. They’re also concerned about cool water as kids have said water from campus fountains is too hot or tastes metallic.

Twenty-seven arrests were made in an illegal street takeover in Pomona. Authorities said they impounded 19 vehicles in connection to the street takeoverr near the intersection of Rio Rancho Road and Rancho Valley Drive. Charges included assault on a police officer, possession of a firearm and possession of drugs. A driver who allegedly rammed his vehicle into a police cruiser while attempting to flee was among those arrested, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Murder charges were upheld against Hidden Hills socialite Rebecca Grossman. A judge rejected a motion to dismiss two counts of murder, finding there was probable cause to determine that Grossman acted with implied malice when her vehicle sped in a 45-mph zone and struck youngsters Mark and Jacob Iskander in a marked Westlake Village crosswalk.

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Top county official arrested in connection with the killing of a Las Vegas investigative reporter. Clark County Administrator Robert Telles was arrested Wednesday night after his home was searched by police in connection with Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German’s fatal stabbing. Telles lost a primary election in June after German’s stories exposed allegations of bullying, favoritism and an inappropriate relationship between Telles and a subordinate.

Seattle teachers went on strike. Faculty and staff from Seattle Public Schools took to the picket line on what was supposed to be the first day of school, striking for the first time since 2015 over issues that include pay and educational support for students who have struggled with years of pandemic learning. Striking teachers said their main concern was educational and emotional help for students, especially those with special needs or learning difficulties.

Queen Elizabeth II under supervision by doctors over concerns about her health. Buckingham Palace says the queen, 96, is under medical supervision because doctors are “concerned for Her Majesty’s health,” as members of her family traveled to Scotland to be by her side. The announcement comes a day after the queen canceled a meeting of her Privy Council when doctors advised her to rest.

China’s earthquake deaths rose as anger over a COVID lockdown grew. After a magnitude 6.8 earthquake caused extensive damage to homes in the Ganze Tibetan Autonomous Region and shook buildings in the provincial capital of Chengdu, whose 21 million citizens are under a strict COVID-19 lockdown, police and health workers refused to allow anxious residents out of their apartment buildings, adding to anger over the government’s strict “zero-COVID policy” as the rest of the world has largely reopened.


Get a read on South L.A. You may think you know South L.A. based off of what you’ve seen in TV and film, or heard in music. But for Gary Phillips and 13 other writers who contributed to his just-published anthology, “South Central Noir,” those narrower, pop-infused renditions are just the tip of the iceberg.

The top picks from the Toronto Film Festival. After two years of pared-down events, the return of film festival season continues with the Toronto Film Festival beginning today. Times reporters have identified some of the buzziest new movies to look out for in this year’s edition. Among the most notable world premieres are Netflix’s sequel to the 2019 blockbuster “Knives Out,” Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans” and Tyler Perry’s period tale, “A Jazzman’s Blues.”

Netflix has settled “The Queen’s Gambit” lawsuit. Georgian chess grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili sued Netflix last year, accusing the streamer of defamation because of a scene in the hit series in which a commentator refers to Gaprindashvili, saying she never competed against men, while narrating a match between protagonist Beth Harmon and a fictional Russian grandmaster. Both parties declined to discuss the terms of the settlement.

How was Lea Michele’s debut in “Funny Girl”? Those six standing ovations don’t lie. Michele’s first Broadway performance as Fanny Brice comes about two months after the Emmy nominee was tapped to replace Beanie Feldstein as the legendary Jewish vaudeville star in the revival.


Regal Cinemas’ owner filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid the box office drought. The London-based Cineworld Group said the company and its subsidiaries had started the legal proceedings in a bid to reduce its debts. During its restructuring, the company said it expected to operate its business as usual with vendors, suppliers and employees being paid.

Rust Movie Productions has denied allegations of wrongdoing. The company behind “Rust,” the low-budget western Halyna Hutchins was working on when she was killed, has denied allegations by New Mexico’s workplace health and safety bureau that led to a $136,793 fine. The agency accused the production managers of “plain indifference” to employee safety. The company said in its defense that it relied on specialty contractors like armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, that it was not the controlling employer at the worksite and that any violation of regulations was caused by “unpreventable employee misconduct.”


I’m 16. I went to a drag show. I wasn’t traumatized. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson lambasted Washington Post contributor Max Boot for taking his family to a drag show. Boot’s teenage stepson saw it differently: “This outrage seems to be premised on the fallacious assumption that drag shows are strip shows or sex shows. I can’t speak for all drag shows — I’ve only seen one — but the one we went to recently was clean, wholesome, innocuous fun.

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It all started with a text. Rams general manager Les Snead received a text message in March from someone claiming to be Bobby Wagner, a six-time All-Pro linebacker recently released by the Seattle Seahawks. Wagner told Snead that he was representing himself as his own agent in his search of a new team. If Snead was interested, here was his contact information. “I’m like, ‘OK, is this real?’” Snead said.

What NFL rule would you change? There’s a lot of proposed tinkering with the NFL’s rules that goes on every season and offseason. With that in mind, The Times asked a collection of people associated with football about an NFL rule or rules they would like to change.


A member of the beaver family creating tension in Martinez, Calif.,
Leave it to beavers: California believes it has a rodent ally in the climate change battle.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

We’re becoming a state of beaver believers. The rodents, according to researchers, are resourceful engineers capable of increasing water storage and creating natural firebreaks with their dams. In other words, they have what it takes to be climate solving celebrities.

So the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is creating five new jobs meant to oversee a restoration program specifically for the North American beaver. The agency just posted its first job listing: The senior environmental scientist will help develop methods for “nature-based restoration solutions involving beavers” and artificial beaver dams, as well as help to update the state’s policies on beavers. It’s quite a change for beavers. After decades of being seen as a nuisance rodent responsible for flooding farmlands, they could be heroes.


An aerial view of a church with a destroyed roof.
The church at the San Gabriel mission was heavily damaged in an arson fire in July 2020.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Two hundred and fifty-one years ago today, on Sept. 8, 1771, Junipero Serra dedicated Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, the fourth of 21 California missions. The original mission was on the Rio Hondo, wrote history professor Richard White in 2020, and it was abandoned because of flooding. It was from there that “the party of pobladores, priests and soldiers who founded Los Angeles in 1781 departed.” The current mission was begun in 1794 and completed in 1806.

In July 11, 2020, fire destroyed the roof and gutted much of the interior of the church building on the site. The blaze, believed to be arson, “came amid rising anger over California missions and other colonial monuments that for many serve as painful reminders of the nation’s racist history,” our colleague Alex Wigglesworth wrote at the time. The Serra-founded mission has a complicated legacy as it was built by Tongva and other Indigenous people who were forced into labor and coerced into converting to Catholicism. After the fire, however, many in the neighborhood mourned the damage to “their neighborhood parish, where generations of the same family went to weekly Mass, baptized children and said goodbye to loved ones.”

A jubilee year was declared last year by California Archbishop Jose H. Gomez to mark the 250th anniversary of the mission. That celebration ends Saturday.

Times staff writer Amy Hubbard contributed to this report.

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