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Today’s Headlines: Drought, wildfire ravage nearly a third of southern Sierra forests

Tall, burned trees are in the foreground. In back, a helicopter drops water on a hillside amid smoke.
A helicopter drops water in the Sequoia National Forest near the Tule River Reservation in September 2021 during the Windy fire.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
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Hello, it’s Wednesday, Nov. 2, and here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:

TOP STORIES

Swaths of Sierra forest were lost to drought, wildfire and bark beetles

As climate change continues transforming California’s landscape in staggering and often irreversible ways, researchers have zeroed in on another casualty of the shift: the forests of the southern Sierra Nevada.

Between 2011 and 2020, wildfires, drought and bark beetle infestations contributed to the loss of nearly a third of all conifer forests in the lower half of the mountain range, according to a recent study published in the journal Ecological Applications. Eighty-five percent of the southern Sierra’s high-density mature forests either lost density or became non-forest vegetation.

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The losses could have grave consequences for California wildlife, including protected species such as spotted owls and Pacific fishers that rely on mature tree canopies for their habitats.

The Valley is where L.A.’s mayoral race could be won or lost

Rick Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass, the two candidates for mayor, have deep personal or professional ties to the San Fernando Valley. With 1.46 million residents, it could sway the election either way.

These votes are especially crucial for Caruso, who beat Bass in the Valley in the June primary but trailed her badly in most other areas of Los Angeles — losing citywide by 7 percentage points. His voter outreach operation, costing about $13 million at the latest count, has focused intensely on the Valley.

But when canvassers and the candidates themselves press the flesh in the Valley, they encounter an electorate whose leanings don’t always line up with common perceptions.

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More politics

  • The 2022 midterm race to represent California’s 34th Congressional District between Congressman Jimmy Gomez and David Kim is about what it means to be a progressive.
  • In many ways, Arizona lies at the heart of the still-roiling fight over 2020, writes columnist Mark Z. Barabak. A unique election-denier slate of GOP candidates is testing democracy.
  • Paul Pelosi faces a “long recovery process” after the attack by an intruder, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office said. Also: David DePape planned attacks on other politicians, prosecutors allege.
  • Caruso and Bass both agree that overcrowded living conditions are at the heart of the region’s housing challenges and support new models of building low-income housing, among other policy ideas.
  • The Supreme Court turned away Sen. Lindsey Graham’s plea to be shielded from testifying before a Georgia grand jury looking into President Trump’s bid to overturn his 2020 election loss.
  • Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. put a temporary hold on the handover of Trump’s tax returns to a congressional committee.

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Orange County declared a health emergency as hospitals filled with sick babies

Rapidly spreading viral infections have pushed pediatric hospitalizations and daily emergency room visits to record levels in the county, prompting officials to declare the health emergency.

California is facing a viral triple whammy from coronavirus, seasonal rise of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus. With O.C. pediatric hospitals strained, the emergency declaration gives the government the ability to require hospitals that don’t typically treat children “to care for them if and when we need it,” said the county health officer.

Cybercriminals from China are holding thousands captive in Cambodia

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In a dystopian nightmare come to life, the Cambodian government has given Chinese crime syndicates free rein to bring in tens of thousands of foreign men and women who — according to human rights organizations and their own accounts — are held captive to work in crowded cyber scam mills.

Lured by the promise of legitimate employment, they are instead forced to run online and telephone rackets targeting people around the world with gambling, money lending and romance schemes, to name a few. Other scams have included fake real estate developments and bogus initial coin offerings.

Workers who meet their targets are rewarded. Those who fail are tortured, abused and sold like chattel to other gangs on private messaging apps such as Telegram. Reports of murder, depression and suicidal ideation are rampant.

Marigolds mean more this Día de Muertos than ever

In 2018, Zeferino Garcia and his wife, Maria Fernando, bought Mi Rancho Conejo near Moorpark, clearing the scrubby terrain with plans to plant tomatoes, mint, avocados and other crops to use at home and for their businesses. A year later, Garcia brought marigold seeds from Oaxaca and tried to grow them, aiming to have them bloom just before Día de los Muertos so he could sell them at their most luminous.

The seeds were sowed too early. Still, customers bought Garcia out of everything. Last year, winds knocked down many of the flowers when they were too young — but what was left sold out. For the past three months, Garcia has zealously monitored the fields. This year, the marigolds bloomed right when they were supposed to.

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“When one sees all this, you feel like you’re in Oaxaca,” Maria Fernando said. “You want to feel this. It’s great to see our culture thrive up here.”

Check out "The Times" podcast for essential news and more.

These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

Bruno Mobest joins fellow UC Irvine students playing Overwatch 2 at the Arena
What an elite esports team looks like: UC Irvine’s student esports athletes play in an “Overwatch 2” competition Oct. 12 at UCI’s Arena. The school is a national esports leader. Read: The ecosystem of competitive esports.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

Father Greg Boyle’s 50 years on a mission of redemption. The founder and director of Homeboy Industries recently celebrated his 50th anniversary of service as a Jesuit priest. Boyle is the patron saint of second chances and humility, writes columnist Steve Lopez.

L.A. County agreed to pay $47.6 million in cases of alleged misconduct by sheriff’s deputies. The settlements resolve five cases. In three of them, deputies shot people; in one, deputies failed to prevent a man from killing himself in jail; and in another, a man whose family said he was suffering a mental health crisis died after being violently restrained by deputies. The county Board of Supervisors approved each settlement unanimously.

California launched a site to track the results of rape kits after police backlogs. In the state and nationwide, the evidence has sat on shelves at police and sheriff’s departments, in some cases going untested for years. The new online portal, hosted by the California Department of Justice, allows victims to search for results of rape kits completed after 2018.

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NATION-WORLD

South Korean police took responsibility for the Halloween crowd disaster. The government faces growing public scrutiny over the crowd crush that killed more than 150 people Saturday in Seoul’s Itaewon district. Yoon Hee-keun, the national police chief, said an initial investigation found that, despite many urgent calls to authorities, officers didn’t respond to them in a satisfactory manner.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro declined to concede defeat in his first address since the election. In a brief speech, President Jair Bolsonaro did not concede the election he lost to leftist Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, but he did authorize his staff to begin the transition process. Lula enters office facing a hostile Congress and state governors who have strong ties with Bolsonaro.

Russia rejoins wartime deal allowing Ukrainian grain exports. Russia agreed Wednesday to resume its participation in a deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations to keep grain and other commodities moving out of Ukraine’s ports despite the ongoing war. The country had suspended its participation over the weekend, citing allegations of a Ukrainian drone attack against its Black Sea fleet.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Meet L.A. Vanguardia, the people transforming our cultural landscape. In 2021, Times journalists traced the horrendous history of Latino representation in entertainment and explored how that past manifested itself in our present. This year we’ve decided to do the opposite: spotlight some of the talented individuals who have beaten the odds to get a seat at the table and are part of the solution. More: Read John Leguizamo’s open letter to Hollywood.

Migos rapper Takeoff died in a shooting in Houston. The “Bad and Boujee” artist, whose real name was Kirshnik Khari Ball, was one of the three members of the Atlanta-based rap group Migos. He was 28. The music industry mourned his loss, with tributes from Rae Sremmurd, Bow Wow, DJ Premier, Keri Hilson, Def Jam Recordings, Gucci Mane and the NAACP.

Commentary: The Huntington museum landed a smashing gift, painted by a court artist to Marie Antoinette. Slightly less than life-size, the seated portrait was painted around 1784 by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Her resplendent picture of Joseph Hyacinthe François-de-Paule de Rigaud, comte de Vaudreuil, age 44, amply demonstrates why she was a leading French artist, court painter to Queen Marie Antoinette and, with Swiss artist Angelika Kauffmann, one of the two most important women wielding a paintbrush in 18th century Europe.

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Randall Emmett was sued for race discrimination and a hostile workplace by a former assistant. The complaint — against Emmett, business partner George Furla and their L.A.-based film production company — asserts that Emmett made racist comments about Black performers, including rappers 50 Cent, Cardi B and Quavo.

BUSINESS

A judge blocked the Penguin Random House takeover of Simon & Schuster. U.S. District Judge Florence Y. Pan ruled that the proposed merger would have antitrust implications by being likely to “substantially” lessen competition “in the market for the U.S. publishing rights to anticipated top-selling books.”

OPINION

The GOP responded to the Pelosi attack with cruel, baseless jokes. It’s shameful. Instead of treating it for what it is — a reprehensible breach of American values and a dangerous threat to democracy in the heat of election season — they are making jokes and spreading homophobic falsehoods. As if that’s not bad enough, some have the gall to portray themselves as victims when reasonable people push back at this cruel disinformation campaign.

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SPORTS

Why Phillies star Bryce Harper turned down the Dodgers. The 30-year-old Harper is Philadelphia’s favorite transplant and a star as the team competes in the World Series. But he could have ended up in L.A.: In 2019, the team offered Harper a four-year, $180-million contract. But Harper sought a long-term deal.

Commentary: What is the path to the CFP title game for USC and UCLA? The release of the first College Football Playoff top 25 rankings confirmed what hopeful Trojans and Bruins fans already knew — the winner of the Nov. 19 crosstown rivalry showdown is still going to need some help to be one of the four teams selected to the bracket with a shot at SoFi glory. The good news? The machinations are not totally unreasonable.

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ONLY IN L.A.

A man's face is just visible through abundant grapes on the vine.
A vintage postcard from Patt Morrison’s collection shows a man standing amid grapevines.

Long before Napa ruled the north and citrus reigned in the south, L.A. made wine. Years before the reign of King Citrus, dozens of wineries and more than a million grapevines made up an enormous L.A. cash crop, writes The Times’ Patt Morrison. L.A.’s wineries grew out of Spanish settlers’ wine tastes, and by 1869 they were squeezing out as much as 5 million gallons. An estimated 3 out of every 4 Los Angeles manufacturing workers were earning their pay in some fashion from the wine business.

So what happened? Prohibition and climate changed the industry’s course. You can learn more about it here.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

A man with short, dark hair, horn-rim glasses and a checked suit gestures while speaking.
Comedian Steve Allen.
(Associated Press)

Twenty-two years ago this week, on Oct. 30, 2000, Steve Allen died. “Steverino” had a radio act that transferred to television, but his greatest claim to fame was hosting the late-night talk show “Tonight.”

The comedian was seriously concerned about a majority of Americans being uneducated and gullible — a condition he jokingly referred to as “dumbth.” He made efforts over his career to combat that ignorance, including creating the Emmy-winning TV show “Meeting of Minds,” which presented imaginary debates between historic figures (including Charles Darwin, Attila the Hun and Marie Antoinette). And as “Tonight” host, he aimed to introduce audiences to jazz legends and showcased soloists.

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But he also gloried in silly entertainment, with emotional readings of letters to the editor, screwball skits, stunts — he dived into Jell-O as well as a giant bowl of salad — and more. One of his characters (before Johnny Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent”) was Question Man:

Answer: Buffalo Bill.

Question Man: When you buy a buffalo, what do you get at the first of the month?

Times staff writer Amy Hubbard contributed to this report.

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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