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Opinion: Apocalypse now, but not in Santa Monica

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Opinion: Apocalypse now, but not in Santa Monica

In December, an atheistic, pro-choice, anti-gun, environmental activist — a.k.a. a resident of Santa Monica — asked me, “So how do you plan to ring in the last year of American democracy?”

Now, months into 2024, the world offers little in rebuttal to that grim forecast. And yet, despite a marine layer of dread at the beach, no Santa Monicans I know have made good on their threats to contact real estate agents in Portugal or Uruguay or Cape Town. I haven’t gotten to Step 2 on my plan to light out and live off the saturated fat of the land.

The fact is, even if 2024 exceeds its potential for national catastrophe, we’ll stay where we are. For one reason: We think we’ll be safe here. Santa Monica is a great place to hide from America. Just ask Whitey Bulger.

As bad as we think it could get somewhere, we don’t foresee diners tipping Giorgio Baldi valets with one hand, an open-carry Glock in the other. Gynecologists at St. John’s getting read their Miranda rights for doing their jobs? Somehow feels unlikely. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Hate U Give,” George Orwell, Toni Morrison, Art Spiegelman and Anne Frank banned from the SaMoHi library? Uh-uh. No way. Never ever.

Then again …

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The most decimated belief of 2024 America is “it can’t happen here.”

Every 10 minutes, another book comes out about how it can happen here, or worse, how it is happening here. Soon every new bedside-table purchase will come with a complimentary copy of Yale professor Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny.” Brilliant book but, you know, not overly cheerful.

As of now, the locals’ best way of rationalizing the “it can’t happen here” fallacy lies in redefining “here”: Santa Monica simply isn’t “here.” It’s a sanctuary city where we defiantly hole up in peace.

OK, not the most ambitious plan, right? Lying low in our green zone sounds pretty defeatist. But after nine years of rehearsing arguments we never have with people we never meet whose opinions we could never change, we’re just wiped. It’s dreary how many aging boomers in Santa Monica have their towels ready to throw in: “Maybe we’ll be getting out at the right time.”

So we’re keeping our friends close and our enemies out of sight, out of mind. We’re low-dosing Rachel Maddow and bingeing escapism; ignoring Quinnipiac University polls and demo-ing the latest in thought-canceling headphones. We’ve fallen in love with our bubble to the point that borderline agoraphobia has gone from an affliction to a remedy.

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Used to be, we’d knock into each other on the street and strategize activism that would get more Americans seeing things our way. Leashes in hand, idle walks would turn into street discussions so fervent our dogs’ ears perked up at the name Raffensperger.

Now we’re thrilled to discuss when or if another atmospheric river will drench Los Angeles.

“We need the rain but not this much rain.”

“True. The L.A. County flag should read: ‘Nothing in moderation.’ ”

Anything that distances us from oncoming traffic, foreign and domestic, is warmly welcomed. In an impromptu dog-walking klatch last week, I joked about how one of the things I love about Santa Monica is that when you see a man on a weekday wearing a suit and tie, you feel sorry for him.

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One whatever-kind-of-doodle mom laughed and said, “Yeah. Being out in the rest of the world? Who needs it?”

And therein lies my big fear: We never get out there again. Complacency has a pretty filthy history that features an overflowing roster of good people turned infamous.

And herein lies my big hope: We give “it can’t happen here” a couple more days or weeks, and spring, with its infinite cliches — rebirth, renewal, recommittal and all that gobbledygook — blows into Santa Monica and shoves us east past dread, across La Cienega and into the fray.

Peter Mehlman’s latest novel is “#MeAsWell.” He was a writer and producer on “Seinfeld.”

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Trump rails against Manhattan DA Bragg, says 'numerous other agencies' didn't push case

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Trump rails against Manhattan DA Bragg, says 'numerous other agencies' didn't push case

Former President Trump railed against the historic trial in Manhattan criminal court Monday, asking why the District Attorney’s Office picked up the case after other law enforcement bodies did not pursue charges. 

“If this were such a great case, why didn’t the Southern District bring it? Who looked at it and turned it down. Why didn’t numerous other agencies and law enforcement groups look at it? Because it was shown to everybody. And very importantly, why didn’t the Federal Elections do anything about it? Because this is federal, it’s not state,” he said. 

“It’s not state… It’s never happened before, I believe. Never happened before… where the state tries to insert itself into federal elections. Never. Nobody’s ever seen it. But, you know, Federal Elections took a total pass on it.” 

The Justice Department in 2019 “effectively concluded” its investigation into Trump’s payments. And in 2021, the Federal Elections Commission, the agency dedicated to enforcing campaign finance laws, announced that it had dropped a case looking into whether Trump had violated election laws for the payment to former pornographic actor Stormy Daniels. 

Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg picked up the case last year, announcing Trump’s indictment in April 2023. 

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NY VS. TRUMP: JUDGE DELIVERS JURY INSTRUCTIONS AS OPENING STATEMENTS KICK OFF

Former President Trump speaks to the media as he leaves court during his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court  on April 22, 2024, in New York City. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first of his criminal cases to go to trial. (Brendan McDermid-Pool/Getty Images)

Trump’s trial in a Manhattan courtroom began in earnest Monday, after jury selection last week, and heard its first witness, former American Media Inc. CEO David Pecker. 

Pecker was allegedly a key figure to a “catch and kill” scheme ahead of the 2016 election. “Catch-and-kill” schemes are understood as tactics used by media and publishing companies to buy the rights of a person’s story, but do not publish the materials. 

NY VS. TRUMP: FIRST WITNESS TAKES THE STAND IN MANHATTAN COURT

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The trial focuses on a $130,000 payment made by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen to Daniels to allegedly quiet her claims of an alleged extramarital affair she had with Trump in the early 2000s. Daniels reportedly spoke to the National Enquirer, which is owned by American Media Inc., on her claims, with Pecker allegedly contacting Cohen to “purchase” Daniels’ silence on the alleged affair. 

Trump has repeatedly denied an affair with Daniels and pleaded not guilty to all counts. 

Former President Donald Trump waves as he leaves court in file photo

Former President Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan Criminal Court, Monday, April 15, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

“During the election, TRUMP and others employed a ‘catch and kill’ scheme to identify, purchase, and bury negative information about him and boost his electoral prospects,” Bragg alleged last year. “TRUMP then went to great lengths to hide this conduct, causing dozens of false entries in business records to conceal criminal activity, including attempts to violate state and federal election laws.”

TRUMP HUSH MONEY TRIAL: MEET THE JURORS WHO WILL HEAR BRAGG’S CASE AGAINST THE 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

former president Trump in court sketch

A court sketch depicts the third day of former President Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan Criminal Court on Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Christine Cornell)

Trump said Monday that payments to Cohen were above board. 

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NY VS TRUMP: THE EVIDENCE PROSECUTORS CAN PRESENT IF FORMER PRESIDENT TESTIFIES

“It’s a case as to bookkeeping which is a very minor thing in terms of the law, in terms of all the violent crime,” Trump said Monday afternoon. “This is a case in which you pay a lawyer, and they call it a legal expense in the books.”

Michael Cohen in black coat, white shirt, frowning

Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to Donald Trump, outside federal court in New York, on Dec. 14, 2023. (Yuki Iwamura/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“I got indicted for that,” he added. 

Trump briefly delivered public comments earlier Monday, where he slammed the case as a “Biden” trial motivated “for the purposes of hurting the opponent of the worst president in the history of our country.” 

 

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“I just want to say before we begin – these are all Biden trials,” Trump said before opening statements were delivered Monday. “This is done as election interference. Everybody knows it.” 

“I’m here instead of being able to be in Pennsylvania and Georgia and lots of other places campaigning, and it’s very unfair. Fortunately, the poll numbers are very good,” Trump continued. “They’ve been going up because people understand what’s going on.” 

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Supreme Court divided on homelessness case that will impact California encampment policy

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Supreme Court divided on homelessness case that will impact California encampment policy

Supreme Court justices sounded deeply divided Monday over whether to give cities in the West more authority to restrict homeless encampments on sidewalks and other public property.

The court’s three liberals said they were wary of giving cities a broad and unchecked power to use arrests and fines to punish homeless people who are sleeping outside.

“Sleeping is a biological necessity,” said Justice Elena Kagan. She told a lawyer representing the city of Grants Pass, Ore., that it “seems like you are criminalizing the status of homelessness.”

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But conservatives, led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts jr., said they were skeptical of treating homelessness as a status that deserves constitutional protection.

People can be homeless for one week and find shelter the next week. “You can move into and out of that status,” he said.

For more than two hours, the justices and attorneys argued back and forth about whether homeless people should be protected from city laws that could punish them because they have nowhere to sleep.

Los Angeles-based attorney Theane Evangelis, representing the Oregon city, said the problem of homelessness has been made worse in the West because of 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rulings that found it was unconstitutional for cities to impose fines or other punishments on homeless people who sleep outdoors. No other appellate court in the nation has followed suit.

She began by urging the justices to “end the 9th Circuit’s failed experiment.” She said cities should have the flexibility to enforce ordinances that limit where people can sleep and camp.

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It was not clear there was a solid majority to overturn the 9th Circuit entirely; some justices appeared to favor a middle-ground approach.

That would allow cities to regulate where people can sleep outside, but it would not prohibit camping or sleeping throughout the city.

Deputy U.S. Solicitor Gen. Ed Kneedler urged the court to adopt that approach. While cities should not make it a crime for homeless people to sleep outdoors, cities should have “flexibility to enforce” reasonable restrictions on where homeless people can sleep, he said.

Many cities in California, including Los Angeles, generally follow that approach.

Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett may hold the deciding votes. Both questioned laws that would punish homeless people for sleeping outdoors, but as Kavanaugh put it, they doubted the wisdom of having federal judges “micromanage” a city’s policies for coping with homelessness.

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The case of Grants Pass vs. Johnson is the most important dispute over homelessness to come before the high court.

At issue is whether the Constitution protects the rights of homeless people who camp on sidewalks or in parks.

The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit held it is cruel and unusual punishment for cities or their police to arrest or fine people who sleep in public because they have nowhere else to go.

City attorneys say those rulings have led to the growth of homeless encampments in California and the West, and they urged the justices to overturn the 9th Circuit.

Advocates for homeless people said a ruling in favor of Grants Pass would allow cities to make it a crime for poor people to sleep outside.

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The justices will meet behind close doors on Thursday to vote on deciding the case, and they are likely to hand down a ruling late June.

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Fetterman hammers 'a–hole' anti-Israel protesters, slams own party for response to Iranian attack: 'Crazy'

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Fetterman hammers 'a–hole' anti-Israel protesters, slams own party for response to Iranian attack: 'Crazy'

Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., reiterated his criticisms of activists calling for cease-fire in Gaza, and slammed fellow Democrats for their “crazy” response to the attacks Iran has launched against Israel, in an interview with Fox Digital.

“It is not appropriate or legal or helpful to advance your argument if you show up in a Starbucks with a bullhorn and start yelling at people,” he told Fox News Digital in a Friday interview. 

He also claimed such protests don’t “make you noble.”

“It just makes you an a–hole,” Fetterman said. 

FETTERMAN HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR ‘SAFE, PURE, TAXED’ MARIJUANA IN 4/20 PUSH TO LEGALIZE WEED

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Sen. John Fetterman reiterated criticisms of anti-Israel protesters disrupting travel and business. (Getty Images)

Since the onset of the war between Israel and terrorist group Hamas, anti-Israel demonstrations have erupted across the U.S. The protesters have gone to extreme lengths at times to telegraph their displeasure with U.S. policy in regard to Israel. Some have trespassed in government buildings, blocked high-traffic bridges and entered private businesses with bullhorns, chanting at employees. 

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Anti-Israel protesters demonstrate along NYPD police lines outside of Columbia University’s campus

Anti-Israel protesters demonstrate along NYPD police lines outside of Columbia University’s campus in New York City on Thursday, April 18, 2024. Multiple students were arrested as officers cleared an encampment on the campus’ lawn. (Peter Gerber for Fox News Digital)

Fetterman clarified that he is supportive of the right to protest and hold different opinions. 

“It’s very American to protest and to do that in the appropriate way,” he said. “I absolutely support that.”

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What he takes issue with, he said, is when those demonstrations “disrupt lives.”

He noted the serious implications of protesters who block traffic with their bodies on high-volume bridges and roads, explaining, “There could be people that [are in] an emergency, or they’re going to be late for work – that they could lose their job, or they have to pick up their kids or drop kids off.”

GOP LAWMAKERS SLAM BIDEN ADMINISTRATION’S NEW TITLE IX PROTECTIONS FOR ‘GENDER IDENTITY’

Protestors block Manhattan Bridge

Anti-Israel protesters demanding a Gaza cease-fire block the Manhattan Bridge in both directions in New York City on Nov. 26, 2023. (Gardiner Anderson for NY Daily News via Getty Images)

While he opposes such forms of protest, he didn’t signal interest in legislation to address them, telling Fox News Digital, it’s “not really my priority.”

“My priority is to talk about hostages,” he said, referring to those still in Hamas’ custody in Gaza. 

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The Pennsylvania senator has emerged as one of the most vocally supportive Democrats of Israel, which he reiterated in the interview, emphasizing, “We can’t ever forget Hamas started this, and they have chosen to do the most terrible, awful, unspeakable things.”

And until the hostages, including the Americans still held in Gaza, are released, Fetterman doesn’t believe the Palestinian cause for statehood can go anywhere.

“They have the power to decide, today – send everyone home and surrender, and all the trauma, the death, and everything in Gaza can end. And you can get back on the path of peace and a two-state solution,” he said.

REPUBLICANS ACCUSE BIDEN, SCHUMER OF EMBOLDENING IRAN PRIOR TO ATTACK ON ISRAEL

Israel launches strike on Iran

Israel retaliated against Iran following a drone attack on the country. (IRGC)

Many in the Democratic Party were not supportive of Israel’s decision to retaliate against Iran, which attacked the country directly last weekend. They feared any counterattacks could stoke a regional war that has the potential to draw in the U.S. But Fetterman said, “I am not going to be in a position to tell Israel what it should do. That’s their choice.” 

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“I certainly hope none of this escalates and turns into [a] more widespread” conflict, he added. 

He was critical of fellow Democrats who did not immediately condemn Iran for directly attacking Israel. “I was appalled that there were members of our party – Democrats that can’t even condemn Iran,” Fetterman remarked. “That’s crazy.”

Prompted on growing division within the Democratic Party over support for Israel, he said he can’t speak for other members. However, he reaffirmed his position as “a very confirmed and consistent voice in standing with Israel throughout all of this.”

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