The most attention-getting news out of the food industry last week was Amazon’s announcement Friday that it’s buying Whole Foods for nearly $14 billion. But that wasn’t the most important news.

The most important news was a largely overlooked announcement from the Trump administration that it’s bowing to the wishes of food companies — and ignoring the pleas of scientific and medical experts — by giving industry players more time to push sugary treats on an increasingly blubbery nation.

The Food and Drug Administration said it will delay implementation of planned food-labeling requirements intended to help consumers better understand how much added sugar they’re taking in and how many calories are being added to their bellies.

The agency said it was responding to “significant concerns” from “numerous stakeholders” about their ability to meet a deadline of July 26, 2018, plus an additional 12 months for smaller food companies.

“The agency is mindful of the importance of balancing its mission of protecting public health with the practicalities of implementing the amended labeling requirements,” it said in a statement.

If that was the case, though, the FDA wouldn’t just leave the public hanging as to when the new food labels would take effect. Yet when I asked Deborah Kotz, an agency spokeswoman, how long the delay would be, she was unable to answer.

“Any additional detail regarding the extension will be forthcoming when the extension is officially announced in the Federal Register,” she told me.

When will that be?

“We can’t comment on the timing.”

I took that as, “Don’t hold your breath.”

The food-labeling rollback is just one of numerous moves by the Trump administration to override measures introduced by former President Obama.

Trump and Republican lawmakers are now trying to do away with consumer protections put in place after the financial meltdown of 2008. And as I reported last week, the Trump administration also wants to take away the right of people to sue nursing homes.

Jim O’Hara, director of health promotion policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, said it’s not hard to see why the administration has placed a seemingly indefinite hold on better informing consumers about what they’re eating.

“There’s been a lot of lobbying from food companies,” he said. “They’re worried about having to disclose added sugar.”

O’Hara is no stranger to food policy. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and as the FDA’s associate commissioner for public affairs.

He pointed me toward a letter submitted in March by food-industry trade groups to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. The groups called for a delay in the new disclosure requirements until at least 2021 “in order to ease the regulatory burden on the economy.”

Signatories included some of the sweetest industries out there, including the American Bakers Assn., the Corn Refiners Assn., the National Confectioners Assn., the Juice Products Assn., the Assn. for Dressings and Sauces and the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., which speaks on behalf of more than 250 individual food and beverage companies.

“These associations represent a lot of sugar,” O’Hara said.

Separately, Price received a letter in May from scientists and academics, and another letter last week from dozens of healthcare, educational and consumer groups, calling for the food-label rule to be implemented on schedule next year.

The health secretary — who was a doctor before he became a full-time politician — apparently found the food industry’s pitch more persuasive.

The food-labeling requirements were announced last year as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to address America’s obesity epidemic. More than a third of U.S. adults are obese, creating greater risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“The new label will make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices,” the FDA said last year.

Planned changes include a larger type size for calories and disclosure of “added sugars” in grams and as a percentage of recommended daily allotment.

The Trump administration, in delaying the labeling requirements, is putting corporate profits ahead of public interest.

It revealed a similar priority in May when it announced the delay of a requirement that restaurant chains include calorie counts and other nutritional info on menus. That rule was supposed to take effect last month. Now it won’t happen until next year at the earliest.

Cary Kreutzer, an assistant professor at USC’s Davis School of Gerontology and Keck School of Medicine, said Trump seems determined to undo many of the nutritional initiatives undertaken by former First Lady Michelle Obama, who made reducing America’s waistline her top priority.

“We know from evidence that when people better understand food labels, they make better choices,” Kreutzer said.

By delaying the more informative labels, she said, “people will keep making the poor food choices that they’re making now.” Kreutzer added that “we know sugar is a huge problem.”

Some food companies and restaurants already have adopted the new disclosure requirements. Others, such as candy maker Mars Inc., say they’d have no trouble hitting the originally planned deadline of next summer.

But most industry players seem intent on buying as much time as they can to keep Americans in the dark about all the added sugar they consume (which is about 94 grams, or 358 calories daily, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the same as drinking 2 ½ cans of Coke).

Pamela G. Bailey, head of the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., said in a statement that food and beverage companies remain committed to updating their labels to better inform consumers. But delaying the disclosure requirement, she said, “will reduce consumer confusion and costs.”



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It’s a policy change President Trump insists will correct what he called a “terrible and misguided deal” by his predecessor.

Trump’s recent announcement on new travel and trade restrictions with Cuba aim to fulfill a campaign promise.

“Easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people,” he said at an event in Miami on Friday. “They only enrich the Cuban regime.”

But while Trump’s policy backtracks on some of President Obama’s efforts to engage with the island, key directives will remain in place.

Here’s a look at Trump’s policy toward Cuba.


First, what did Obama’s reforms with Cuba do?

In December 2014, Obama announced a historic deal to gradually rebuild the economic and diplomatic relationships between the two countries.

As a part of the deal forged with Cuban President Raul Castro, Obama eased economic and trade restrictions that dated back to the U.S. embargo on Cuba that began in the 1960s. As part of the agreement, the two countries reopened embassies in each other’s capitals.

Restrictions on American agricultural and telecommunications equipment to Cuba were eased, and it became much easier for Americans to travel to Cuba as regular air travel between the countries was restored.

In turn, airlines and U.S. hotel chains began investing resources in Cuba, while chicken, grain and other agricultural producers from the U.S. exported tons of products to Cuba. Cubans, who had little access to the Internet, also found themselves able to browse online.

Moreover, Obama’s efforts allowed Americans to use credit and debit cards in the country and to send money to relatives in Cuba from the United States. Last year, Obama traveled to Cuba, becoming the first U.S. president in nearly a century to visit the island.

What did Trump say about it?

As a private citizen, Trump criticized the effort.

This flowed over into last year’s campaign, with Trump vowing to terminate the agreement. In the weeks after his election victory, Trump forcefully hinted at his plans for Cuba.

“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” he tweeted.

Easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people

—President Trump, speaking in Miami

What’s new about Trump’s recently announced Cuba policy? Can people still travel to the country?

Well, for starters, none of Trump’s reforms take effect immediately. (They could take up to 90 days.)

Trump’s primary objective is to keep money out of the hands of Cuba’s military and intelligence services.

The new rules include prohibitions on Americans spending money on businesses controlled by the military, which has a wide reach in the Cuban economy. This is likely to affect pending hotel projects with Cuban companies that have ties to the military.

Trump also will reimpose the requirement that “people-to-people” travelers can only come to Cuba with heavily regulated tour groups. The ability of Americans to travel freely on vacation to the country will be scrapped.

“America is prepared to outstretch its hand and work with the people of Cuba, but we will not, we will not empower their oppressors,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who helped craft the new regulations, said at Friday’s event with Trump. (Rubio and many Republican members of Congress had assailed Obama’s directive with Cuba, saying Cuba’s Communist government and military were benefiting.)

What remains in place from Obama’s policy?

Trump will not close the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and commercial flights and cruise ships will still be allowed.

Moreover, it appears there’s a willingness to keep in place Obama’s efforts to communicate with Cuba.

In a memo from the Trump administration, it notes “any further improvements in the United States-Cuba relationship will depend entirely on the Cuban government’s willingness to improve the lives of the Cuban people,” and also mandates regular reporting of progress toward this objective.

What’s been the response to Trump’s efforts?

Republicans like Rubio, who is Cuban and a native of South Florida, lauded the effort.

Fellow Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart also lauded Trump for keeping a campaign promise.

“You have not betrayed us. You kept your promise; you stand in solidarity with the Cuban people and freedom-loving people everywhere; and you are putting American values and U.S. national security interests first,” he said.

But groups both here in the United States and the Cuban government expressed some reservations.

In a statement, Myron Brilliant, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the new rules limit the “possibility for positive change on the island and risk ceding growth opportunities to other countries that, frankly, may not share America’s interest in a free and democratic Cuba that respects human rights.”

Responding to Trump’s announcement, the Cuban government said in a statement that American attempts to fundamentally change the island were unlikely to succeed.

The statement said a “strategy aimed at changing the political, economic and social system in Cuba, whether it seeks to achieve it through pressures and impositions, or by employing more subtle methods, will be doomed to failure.”



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Three years after President Obama began opening the door for U.S. companies to invest in Cuba, President Trump has announced policy changes that have major corporations unsure of their future in the island nation.

Trump’s new policy, outlined broadly in a speech Friday, would stop individual Americans from traveling to Cuba under the so-called people-to-people exemption and ban business that directly benefits the Cuban military.

Trump’s policy still allows 12 categories of travel to Cuba, including exemptions for guided groups and visits to see family members. And no new restrictions are being placed on what travelers can buy and bring back to the U.S. from Cuba.

But the self-directed, individual travel allowed under the Obama policy will be prohibited.

During a speech in Miami on Friday, Trump said his new policy replaces Obama’s “terrible and misguided” deal with the Castro government with “a deal that’s fair and a deal that makes sense.”

Airlines, cruise lines and hotel companies that have launched business deals with Cuba say they aren’t sure what the new policy will mean for their operations.

American hospitality giant Starwood, which was acquired last year by Marriott International, negotiated a deal last year to manage a 186-room hotel, now called Four Points by Sheraton. That hotel is owned by the Cuban military, and Marriott had planned to negotiate other hotel deals in Cuba.

“We are still analyzing the policy directive issued by the president today, and its full effect on our current and planned operations in Cuba may depend on related forthcoming regulations,” Marriott spokeswoman Barbara Delollis said, adding that the company has “invested significant resources establishing a presence in Cuba.”

Trump administration officials, when asked during a briefing about the Starwood deal, said the details of the policy change would be spelled out under regulations expected to be drafted by the departments of Treasury and Commerce, starting in the next 30 days. But the officials said that the administration doesn’t want to disrupt existing business.

Months before he was elected, Trump said in an interview with CNN that he would consider opening a Trump-branded hotel in Cuba “at the right time, when we’re allowed to do it. Right now, we’re not.” But since his election, Trump has been lobbied by lawmakers and others who thought the Obama administration’s Cuba policy was too lenient.

John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said the military is connected to so many businesses in Cuba that it will be difficult for Americans to identify the hotels, restaurants and other merchants that would be prohibited under Trump’s change.

He suggested the U.S. government create a smartphone app that can identify such businesses for U.S. travelers.

Under Obama, several major U.S. carriers began regular routes last fall to Havana and other Cuban cities. Trump’s policy won’t impede such air service but several airlines said it was unclear how Trump’s new restriction on individual travelers will affect demand for flights to Cuba.

“Southwest is now reviewing the president’s statements made this afternoon in South Florida and is assessing impact any proposed changes could have on our current scheduled service to Cuba,” Southwest Airlines spokesman Dan Landson said.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.



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If you booked an ocean cruise or group tour to Cuba before President Trump announced his policy shift Friday, don’t panic.

Cruises and group tours are unaffected by planned revisions to travel rules eased last year under President Obama. Flights by U.S. commercial airlines also will continue.

Carnival Corp., the big dog in the Caribbean cruise world, on Thursday released a statement to reassure its passengers ahead of Trump’s announcement.

The company said it was pleased the policy changes “will allow our ships to continue to sail to Cuba.”

Katharine Bonner, senior vice president of high-end tour operator Tauck, was careful to point out in a phone interview Friday that no changes will take effect until new regulations are written by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

“They’re basically saying If you’ve already paid money for a cruise or trip, then you are OK,” Bonner said.

Tauck, like other operators, will go ahead with two upcoming land tours to Cuba and a small-ship cruise in 2018. And, yes, they’ve had calls from clients concerned about the planned changes.

Among cruise companies, Carnival expanded Cuba itineraries on several of its lines this spring. (It operates Carnival Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn, Princess Cruises and others.)

“We will review the extent of the tightening of the travel rules, but our guests have already been traveling under the 12 approved forms of travel to Cuba …,” the company statement said.

Technically, travel to Cuba is illegal. But the U.S. government allows tourism that falls into 12 categories, including “people to people” cultural exchange tours, which cruises and tour operators currently follow.

That means organizing a “full schedule of educational exchange activities” to comply with the rules, Bonner said. Under the proposed changes, however, individual travelers will no longer be allowed to use the people-to-people category.

But back to cruises. If you want to go, here are some expanded offerings by major lines in 2017 and beyond.

Carnival Cruises started sailing to Cuba in June with four- and five-day voyages from Tampa, Fla., that include daytime and overnight stops in Cuba.

Royal Caribbean in May opened bookings for 58 cruises to Cuba between January 2018 and March 2019. It’s offering four- and five-night sailings from Tampa, with an overnight stay in Havana, aboard the Empress of the Seas.

Holland America Line also announced in May that it would begin cruises to Cuba in December aboard the Veendam. It plans to sail nine cruises, each seven days long, and stop at Havana and Cienfuegos, Cuba, as part of its Caribbean itineraries. It’s also planning a 12-day Christmas holiday cruise leaving Dec. 22 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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travel@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimestravel



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Since the plagues of the Old Testament, we have contemplated the Apocalypse, the world rising in vengeance as men, women and children scurry across the brutal landscape of a lost paradise. Skies rain hail, locusts swarm, rivers turn to blood, darkness falls.

Our doomsday stories and how they scroll and flash before us have changed since the parchment days of the Bible. But we remain fascinated by the specter of our demise, whether the end is wrought by deities, our own folly or imposed by outside forces like monsters, asteroids and aliens that have haunted us since Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast.

Few of our dystopias, however, are as frightening as the planet gone asunder, polluted and destroyed by humanity’s amorality, recklessness and greed. Film and literature — to say nothing of our private insecurities — resound with a world that freezes, boils, chokes, cracks with earthquakes, dwindles with resources and succumbs to pestilence and disease.

Images of glacier walls crashing into oceans, arid lands, smudged skies and Hollywood disaster scenarios have reverberated across social media since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. The president said the pact, signed by 195 nations to reduce carbon emissions, would undercut business, hurt American workers and “weaken our sovereignty.”

“The Paris Agreement handicaps the United States’ economy in order to win praise from the very foreign capitals and global activists that have long sought to gain wealth at our country’s expense,” said Trump. “They don’t put America first. I do. And I always will.”

Perhaps more than any other moment in his presidency, Trump’s action highlighted a Darwinian world view in which the planet is less a community than an unforgiving marketplace for countries to compete and barter. Terrorism, Russia’s cyber meddling in the U.S. election and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un taunts like a despot in an end-of-days movie, have unsettled Americans. But exiting the climate pact has raised larger existential questions at a time of rising seas, droughts and melting ice caps.

Hollywood for decades has spun science fiction and horror out of environmental calamity. In 1973, the thriller “Soylent Green” ventured to the year 2022, when the Earth was endangered by pollution and the greenhouse effect. Natural disaster movies related to climate change and pollution became a staple, including “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004), about storms raging across the globe in a new ice age, and the Mad Max series going through “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), where roving clans fight over gasoline and water on a crazed and poisoned Earth.

These stories foreshadowed and articulated the anxieties of a new century marked by wars and multiplying images of environmental degradation. The planet seemed to be shrinking, and every click of the screen — every YouTube rant, beheading, cyclone and story uttered — made us intimate with the ills that for so long seemed foreign and safely beyond our borders.

The world in these films is dark and unredemptive, a landscape of memory and rage where pictures of beaches and fields of green are eerie artifacts of humanity’s hubris and capacity to imperil what gives it life. Man becomes cast against himself in a cruel struggle for survival, such as the father and son who roam, scavenge and hide beneath slate skies in “The Road” (2009). The mood and tone are similar in “Children of Men” (2006), set in a desolate and violent London after pollution and other evils, which prove just as devastating as an asteroid strike, have rendered humanity infertile.

As the science of global warming has matured, and documentaries like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006) have explored its devastating consequences, the planet’s frailty has come into sharper focus, even as many Republicans, including Trump, question the causes that could spell our undoing. That dilemma and Trump’s decision on the Paris treaty will figure in Gore’s upcoming follow-up: “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.”

The preoccupation over the planet’s future and its increasing interconnectedness have, according to novelist Junot Diaz, made dystopian themes “the default narrative of the generation.”

“The steady drum beat of reports from our best and brightest scientists has made it explicitly clear that, whether we like or whether we want to admit it or not, we have damaged our planet in ways that have transformed us into a dystopian topos,” he said in a podcast with the Boston Review. “We are making the genre in which we are living, and we are making it at such an extraordinary rate.”

Trump’s election and the bitter political and societal chasms it revealed has brought back into vogue a number of dystopian novels, including George Orwell’s “1984,” Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the story of infertility and turning women into slaves, which has been adapted for a heralded Hulu series. As in “The Road,” the exact cause of cataclysm in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is nebulous, a frightening, creeping concoction that plays with our imagination.

There is little doubt about the cause of ruin in “Chasing Coral,” a Netflix documentary on climate change and the death of coral reefs. The film, which opens in July, focuses on how warming waters around the Great Barrier Reef in Australia are bleaching the reef’s colors — imagine a rainbow turning to ash — and ability to sustain life.

“Our oceans are dramatically changing and we are losing coral reefs on a global scale,” director Jeff Orlowski said. “We spent three years with divers, underwater photographers and experts to reveal the majesty of our oceans and the rapidly changing reality of our world. What we witnessed while making this film reshaped my understanding of the world.”

The film is likely to intensify the debate around global warming and how filmmaking and other arts challenge and speak to conflicting agendas. A timely, if seemingly satirical, blurring of the lines between our fictions, politics and realities comes to mind in “Dystopian Visions,” a new class former presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul will teach at George Washington University.

Such visions haunt and often remind us of nature’s splendor and fragility, and what happens when species go extinct and winds howl arid and foul. They also leave us (and Hollywood) with questions: How does one generation explain to the next that their birthright is jeopardy? That chaos sprung from folly or chance is irreparable, and that destiny is bound in dereliction?

In her 1826 post-apocalyptic novel about a plague, “The Last Man,” Mary Shelley, who also gave us “Frankenstein,” pondered: “What is there in our nature that is forever urging us on towards pain and misery?”

Kevin Costner’s interminable “Waterworld” (1995) imagined a planet where the polar ice caps melted and everyone lived on ships and floating outposts, hoarding jars of dirt like relics while searching for mythical dry land. In “Blade Runner” (1982), a revolutionary work by director Ridley Scott, Los Angeles of 2019 is a garish and desolate landscape where cops battle synthetic humans known as “replicants.” Earth has become shades of grays and neon, tree-less and shadowed by Orwellian industrial towers. Not surprisingly, a sequel, “Blade Runner 2049,” will open this year.

But man is a creature of hope, cunning and delusion. Waste a planet, find an escape; or in biblical terms, endure banishment from the Garden of Eden. That is the theme of “Interstellar” (2014), when a team of astronauts seeks a wormhole in space to deliver humanity from the shriveled crops, blowing dust and the environmental catastrophe Earth has become. It seems our ingenuity to find someplace new is stronger and more fierce than it is in fixing the place we are.

“We didn’t run out of planes and television sets,” says one character, “we ran out of food.”

That is too pessimistic an epitaph for many Hollywood films, where even in demise there’s a promise of resurrection. A scientist played by Michael Caine, whose soothing voice can make a lie sound like the truth, adds: “We’re not meant to save the world. We’re meant to leave it.”

See the most-read stories this hour »

Twitter: @JeffreyLAT

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

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In what appears to be an act of literary diplomacy, former basketball star Dennis Rodman has brought books to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

One book was Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal,” which Rodman was photographed giving to the nation’s sports minister, Kim Il Guk.

That book was published in 1987, four decades before Donald Trump would become president. During the presidential campaign, Trump’s ghostwriter on the book, Tony Schwartz, spoke up about his experience working with Trump and was highly critical of him, saying “I put lipstick on a pig” and that now the title he would suggest would be “The Sociopath.”

Rodman also brought a children’s book — “Where’s Waldo” by Martin Hanford. “Where’s Waldo” is presumed to be a gift for Kim Jong Un’s daughter.

Whether Rodman was able to find either book in a Korean edition is unknown.

Rodman also gave Kim two signed sports jerseys.

carolyn.kellogg@latimes.com

@paperhaus



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California will increase jobs and incomes more slowly than expected this year, mainly because President Trump’s big spending plans don’t seem to be coming to fruition yet.

That’s the upshot of the latest forecast from economists at UCLA, released Tuesday, that predicts employment in California will increase by a modest 1.4% and personal income will grow by 3.1% this year. Earlier projections were more optimistic.

Over the last several months, Trump has promised to pour money into a “great rebuilding of the armed forces” and has hyped a $1-trillion investment into upgrading the country’s roads and bridges.

But his budget proposal doesn’t include a huge increase in defense spending, and “infrastructure week” passed without much of an update from the administration on the prospects of securing government funds for a national rebuilding plan.

“Congress seems to be so tied up in considering healthcare and taxes that they aren’t ready to take on a massive infrastructure bill,” said Jerry Nickelsburg, a coauthor of the UCLA report.

Nickelsburg noted that the president spent months saying he would bulk up the Navy by buying more than 70 new ships, but his budget included no extra money for shipbuilding. Trump’s original proposal didn’t go beyond former President Obama’s plan to buy eight new ships in 2018, and Trump cut the number of aircraft to be purchased next year, according to a report on Breakingdefense.com.according to a report on Breakingdefense.com.

Bringing the battle force up to 350 ships, as Trump promised, would cost $165 billion over 30 years, the Congressional Budget Office calculated. Those billions would have been a boon to the three large shipyards in San Diego, and could have lead to new military jobs across the state.

“If there were to be an expansion of the military and size of military forces stationed at the bases in California, that would have been stimulative,” Nickelsburg said.

The state will have to fight headwinds as it approaches full employment and there are fewer and fewer job candidates available to fill openings. Trump’s “deportations, or the threat thereof, of unskilled workers” will only make things worse in an already tight job market, the report said.

Natalie.Kitroeff@latimes.com

Follow me @NatalieKitro on Twitter



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Balmeet Singh stepped outside a burger shop in a strip mall to wish his 13-year-old cousin a happy birthday when the stranger squared up against him.

“So, you’re going to blow up this country?” the man said. “You’re trying to blow up this country?”

He threw a drink in Singh’s face, his long beard and burgundy turban the intended target. Then the man threatened to kill him.

A dozen people sat in the nearby patio. Singh scanned their faces. No one said anything. Singh had never felt so alone.

The September attack left the 31-year-old real estate agent among the swelling ranks of Sikhs targeted, in many cases, after being mistaken for Muslim — a phenomenon that gained momentum after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sikh community leaders say they’ve seen another uptick since the 2016 presidential election and the Trump administration’s proposed immigration and travel bans. Those proposals, they argue, are fueling an intensified xenophobia.

Sikhism, which has roots in the Punjab region of northern India and eastern Pakistan, is the world’s fifth-largest religion.

The FBI began collecting data on anti-Sikh, anti-Arab and anti-Hindu hate crimes for the first time in 2015, though the Sikh community has struggled for years to accurately track those crimes. Only six of the incidents in the most recent FBI report were anti-Sikh hate crimes, but the bureau has said it takes years to get an accurate accounting.

Sikh advocacy groups argue such incidents are under-reported and do not include other hate-filled attacks, such as discrimination or hate speech — a concern buoyed by law enforcement data. Many cities either did not report hate crimes or reported zero hate crimes, according to the FBI report.

“The overwhelming motivation for these attacks or intimidation incidents are part and parcel of a growing wave of hostility based on perception that Sikhs are Muslim,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of the advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together.

Advocacy groups use statistics on anti-Muslim hate crimes to help determine whether Sikhs are at higher risk, said Rajdeep Singh Jolly, interim managing director of programs at the Sikh Coalition.

“At the moment, the risk of anti-Sikh hate crime is high,” Jolly said. “Any time there is a flare-up in anti-immigrant rhetoric, we see an uptick in even an apprehension about hate crimes.”

While some of the violence against Sikhs stems from misconceptions about their background — attackers assume they are Muslim or Middle Eastern — experts say much of it is fueled by a prejudiced response to their darker skin, beards or turbans.

Earlier this year, two Sikhs and two other Indian men were shot in attacks in Kansas, Washington and South Carolina. In two of the incidents, authorities said the shooters expressed a variation of the same sentiment: Go back to your country.

“It’s very similar to how I felt after 9/11,” Singh said. “It’s not enough to simply be who you are and exist. You have to go out of your way to prove you’re not a threat.”

Community members are working to strike a balance in its efforts to educate the public about Sikhism — aiming to differentiate themselves through awareness campaigns and local outreach without appearing to condone attacks on Muslims and other minorities.

“Sikhs began migrating in large numbers with my parents’ generation,” Jolly said. “They just didn’t have the time or resources or the know-how of how to do lobbying. To some extent, we’re catching up.”

A disturbing trend

Maan Singh Khalsa was attacked and beaten, and his hair was cut off in Richmond, Calif., in 2016. (Sikh Coalition)

Maan Singh Khalsa thought nothing of the men in the white Ford F-150 who pulled up next to him at a red light in Richmond, Calif. Then they began throwing beer cans at him.

When the light turned green, Khalsa drove off and called 911. The truck followed.

At the next red light, two men got out of the pickup and ran up to Khalsa’s car. They reached into the open window, punched his face and yelled profanities. The attackers cut off bits of his hair. They stabbed his finger as he tried to shield himself. His finger was later amputated.

“By cutting my hair, the attackers did not just attack my body; they attacked my dignity, my spirit, my faith, my religion and my entire community,” Khalsa, 42, said later in a court statement.

Khalsa said he didn’t even think about rolling up the window when the men approached him. Instead, he tried to reason with his assailants, saying, “There is a misunderstanding; I am your brother.”

The Texas men were sentenced to three years in prison for the September attack. When addressing his attackers in court, Khalsa again tried to get them to understand.

“I hope that you will learn about me and my community and one day consider me your brother too,” Khalsa said.

  • September 2001: Balbir Singh Sodhi is killed in the aftermath of 9/11 in Mesa, Ariz.
  • March 2011: Two elderly Sikh men are killed while out for a walk in Elk Grove, Calif.
  • August 2012: A gunman opens fire in a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wis., during Sikh prayer services, killing six.
  • September 2015: A teenager calls a Sikh man “terrorist” and “Bin Laden” before repeatedly punching him in his car in Chicago.
  • September 2016: A Sikh man is brutally beaten and his hair is cut off while stopped at a red light in Richmond, Calif.
  • February 2017: Two Indian men are shot, one of them fatally, at a bar in Olathe, Kan. The shooter reportedly told them to go back to their country.
  • March 2017: Two Sikh men are attacked in separate shootings, one in Washington and another in South Carolina. The man shot in South Carolina was killed.

On Sept. 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was planting flowers with a landscaper outside his gas station in Mesa, Ariz. On his head rested a turban.

As he drove past in his pickup, Frank Roque, a 42-year-old machinist, opened fire with a .38-caliber handgun. Sodhi, 49, was shot multiple times. He crumbled to the ground, fatally wounded — the first Sikh killed after 9/11 by someone bent on killing a Muslim.

The next day, when police arrested him, Roque yelled, “I stand for America!”

Before the attack, Roque told a waiter at an Applebee’s that he was going to go out and “shoot some towel heads.” He said that “all Arabs should be shot” and that he wanted to “slit some Iranian throats,” according to media reports.

Sodhi’s brother, Rana, didn’t learn of his brother’s death until the next day, when a gas station employee called. He thought his brother must have been shot in a robbery. Then it sunk in that his brother was killed outside the shop. Sodhi had been shot because of what his beard and turban meant to his killer, his brother realized.

“We didn’t know there was so much ignorance,” Rana Sodhi said.

A link between political rhetoric and crime

Gurcharan Singh, 63, celebrates a holiday parade at his gurdwara.
Gurcharan Singh, 63, celebrates a holiday parade at his gurdwara. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The FBI began tracking hate crimes against Sikhs in response to community advocacy following a mass shooting at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wis., in 2012. Six people were killed, and three were critically wounded. The gunman shot himself in the head.

Sikhs have been attacked at least a dozen times since, but it was a shooting in Kansas in February that again put the Indian community on edge. In that attack, two men were shot by a man who reportedly believed he was shooting Iranians.

Valarie Kaur, a Sikh civil rights advocate, said she’s spent years pushing back against the mistaken identity narrative because xenophobia targets “all of our communities at once,” not just Sikhs.

“It seems to make very little difference if the brown, bearded man with the turban calls himself a Sikh and not a Muslim,” she said. “They read us as un-American.”

Sikh women prepare bread during Nagar Kirtan celebrations at Gurdwara Guru Angad Darbar in Bakersfield.
Sikh women prepare bread during Nagar Kirtan celebrations at Gurdwara Guru Angad Darbar in Bakersfield. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A correlation between President Trump’s talk on immigration and an increase in hate crimes doesn’t necessarily point to causation, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, but there could be a link between political rhetoric and crime.

When then-President George W. Bush called for tolerance after 9/11, anti-Muslim hate crimes dropped dramatically across the country, he said. Those crimes spiked when Trump, then a presidential candidate, first proposed his “Muslim ban” after the San Bernardino terrorist attack in December 2015, Levin said.

The average for anti-Muslim hate crimes at the time was about 13 per month, he said, but there were 15 anti-Muslim crimes within five days after Trump’s speech.

“Sikhs are getting swept up in that,” Levin said.

Carrying proof of citizenship

Sikh holy men walk in front of a procession carrying their holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, during a Nagar Kirtan parade.
Sikh holy men walk in front of a procession carrying their holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, during a Nagar Kirtan parade. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

In the days following Trump’s first travel ban order, conversations in Balmeet Singh’s family began to shift from asking about each other’s day to whether they would need to prove they are Americans. Over dinners, they discussed keeping copies of their passports in their car and scanned copies onto their phones.

They bought his youngest sister a panic button in case anyone harassed her.

Singh, who lives in Bakersfield with his parents, grandparents and sisters, said it was surreal for all three generations to sit down and talk about their identity.

“Suddenly, all of us have to discuss that it’s not enough to be who we are,” he said. “We suddenly have to prove ourselves.”

Sikh men play a card game in a neighborhood park in Bakersfield.
Sikh men play a card game in a neighborhood park in Bakersfield. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Sukhpreet "Sandy" Kaur, left, helps Emily Villarreal cover her head before entering the gurdwara.
Sukhpreet “Sandy” Kaur, left, helps Emily Villarreal cover her head before entering the gurdwara. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

About 500,000 Sikhs live in the United States, with much of that population settled in California and New York, according to the Sikh Coalition.

Sikhs represent a small portion of the Indian population, but community estimates place more than 30,000 in the central San Joaquin Valley. They comprise the majority of the local Indian population.

In an effort to familiarize the rest of the community with Sikhs, Singh’s father put up a billboard along the freeway with his photo and information about his medical clinic. His face is plastered on the left side of the sign, his hair wrapped in a black turban.

Forgiveness

A Sikh priest offer prayers during Nagar Kirtan services at Gurdwara Guru Angad Darbar in Bakersfield.
A Sikh priest offer prayers during Nagar Kirtan services at Gurdwara Guru Angad Darbar in Bakersfield. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Just days after 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, his brother Rana and other members of their gurdwara planned a Sunday news conference to educate the community about Sikhs. The day before, Sodhi called his brother and asked him to bring an American flag for the gas station.

Sodhi was shot dead 30 minutes later.

“A lot of us moved from India after 1984, when Sikhs were persecuted in New Delhi out in the open,” Rana Sodhi said. “We didn’t expect those kind of things from America.”

He spoke with his brother’s killer for the first time last year after Kaur, the Sikh civil rights advocate and a family friend, set up a phone call.

The three spoke for more than 20 minutes. Roque, who still is in prison, told Rana Sodhi that he was seething over the terrorist attacks when he pulled the trigger. He said he wasn’t a racist, and he did express remorse.

“I want you to know from my heart, I’m sorry for what I did to your brother,” Roque said, according to a recording of the conversation. “One day, when I go to heaven to be judged by God, I will ask to see your brother, and I will hug him, and I will ask him for forgiveness.”

Sodhi nodded, then replied: “We already forgave you.”

Follow me on Twitter: @sarahparvini

sarah.parvini@latimes.com



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A group of business leaders has sent a letter to the top members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees urging them to maintain basic research funding, especially in energy, that President Trump has proposed to slash or eliminate.

The letter signed by 14 senior figures from the business world — including trade group leaders and current or former executives in technology, finance, utilities, oil exploration, and military and civilian aerospace — said Congress should “invest in America’s economic and energy future by funding vital programs in energy research and development at the Department of Energy.”

Trump has proposed massive cuts in those areas, including a 36.5% reduction in nuclear research, a 58% cut in fossil fuel technology and a 35% overall cut in science and energy innovation. Trump has also proposed the elimination of the $306-million-a-year program known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

“Programs like ARPA-E provide a blueprint for smart federal investments in high-risk, high-reward technologies that boost our competitiveness by keeping America at the forefront of global energy technology research,” the business leaders countered in their letter.

The letter was organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the American Energy Innovation Council. It is likely to be just the opening salvo in what promises to be a tough battle for the administration. ARPA-E and other research projects scattered around the country have considerable support in Congress. Energy budget hearings are expected to begin in in the House next week and in the Senate on June 21.

The Trump administration, however, has said that research and development can be done by the private sector without federal assistance.

“The whole ARPA-E program is exactly right,” said Chad Holliday, a former chief executive at DuPont and now chairman of Shell. “Funding early-stage things that are not getting funded somewhere else.”

Holliday emphasized “the importance of research, particularly about energy with the energy transition around the world.” He said that “companies alone will not be able to do this in a robust enough way. Research and partnering with the private sector is so important, and it is a small amount of money in the grand scheme of things.”

Norman Augustine, a former chief executive of Lockheed Martin, said that energy research was linked to climate change and that there was “a huge time issue.” He also said that “it’s energy that drives the economy of this nation, and that means jobs. When you undermine research on energy, you undermine jobs and our standard of living.”

Augustine, an aeronautical engineer, recalled giving testimony in which he discussed the difficulty of making heavy airplanes fly. “Never once did we go about it by getting rid of the engine,” he said.

Paul Bledsoe, an energy consultant who helped assemble the business leaders, said that the innovations that have emerged from government programs include improved combustion engines, 3-D imaging, advanced seismology and horizontal drilling that has helped unlock vast domestic supplies of oil and natural gas.

Government-funded research has also contributed to improvements in solar energy, a field in which job growth is 18 times the pace of the overall economy.

He noted that a 2016 Energy Department study found that research and development investments totaling $12 billion between 1976 and 2012 at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy yielded net economic benefits to the United States of $230 billion (in inflation-adjusted dollars) with an annual return on investment of 20%.

In 2007, President George W. Bush signed into law the bill authorizing ARPA-E’s creation. In 2009, under President Obama, Congress appropriated $400 million for the agency. Since 2009, ARPA-E has funded more than 400 energy technology projects, including work on a 1-megawatt silicon carbide transistor the size of a fingernail, microbes that use hydrogen and carbon dioxide to make liquid transportation fuel and a compressed-air energy-storage system.

The letter was sent to the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Thad Cochran (R-Miss.); the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont; the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.); and that committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York.

Besides Holliday and Augustine, the letter’s signatories were: Christopher M. Crane, chief executive of Exelon; Bruce Culpepper, president of Shell Oil in the United States; John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Timothy L. Dove, CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources; Anthony F. Earley Jr., chairman of the board of Pacific Gas & Electric; Tom Fanning, CEO of Southern Co.; Michael Graff, CEO of American Air Liquide Holdings; David Holt, president of the Consumer Energy Alliance; Maria G. Korsnick, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute; Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Assn.; and Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy, an electricity transmission firm.

Mufson writes for the Washington Post.



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California officials say they are forging ahead with emissions-cutting measures despite the Trump administration’s move this week to delay implementation of Obama-era limits on ozone, the lung-searing gas in smog.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told governors Tuesday he was extending by one year a deadline for them to determine which areas of their states violate federal standards for the pollutant, citing what he said was a lack of information and “increased regulatory burdens, restrictions on infrastructure investment, and increased costs to businesses.”

“We are committed to working with states and local officials to effectively implement the ozone standard in a manner that is supportive of air quality improvement efforts without interfering with local decisions or impeding economic growth,” Pruitt said in a statement.

The extension applies to a tougher 70 parts per billion limit on ozone the Obama administration EPA adopted in October 2015.

The move is the latest in a series of steps Pruitt has taken to roll back or delay Obama-era environmental protections. The decision is expected to push back federal deadlines to reach the health standard, allowing states with dirty air, including California, to put off the adoption of pollution-reduction measures.

California regulators insisted that Pruitt’s decision would in no way delay progress in cleaning the air.

“California is forging ahead with aggressive actions to reduce ozone levels, irrespective of EPA’s delay,” California Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young said. “In the meantime, we believe that EPA cannot back off on its own responsibility to set cleaner standards.”

Young cited the “critical public health challenge” of air pollution in Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley. He said steps that California regulators are taking to reduce emissions in the freight and transportation sector “will put us on the trajectory for meeting the 70 [parts per billion] standard in any case.”

Ozone is a corrosive gas that forms when emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes cook in the heat and sunlight. It triggers asthma and other respiratory illness. Southern California has the nation’s worst ozone pollution and remains far from meeting a series of previous federal air quality standards.

Environmentalists blasted the EPA’s move as a step toward rolling back the Obama administration’s clean-air standards and allowing industries to avoid stronger emissions controls.

“This delay is a flagrant violation of the law that denies Americans their right to safe air free from unhealthy smog pollution,” said John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

Industry groups waged a fierce lobbying and advertising campaign against the 2015 ozone rules, predicting they would harm businesses by requiring costly new pollution controls.

In his previous job as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt was one of the top legal adversaries seeking to block the EPA’s regulations on climate change, clean water and air quality, suing the Obama administration over its 2015 ozone standards and other major environmental rules.

After Trump appointed Pruitt administrator, the EPA began reexamining its ozone rules.

EPA records show all 50 states and the District of Columbia submitted recommendations last year on which areas should be designated as meeting or violating ozone limits. None said they had insufficient information to do so.

The EPA did not respond to requests for comment, including questions about what specific information it lacks and the potential health consequences of the delay.

Republican lawmakers who have long been critical of Obama’s environmental regulations applauded Pruitt’s decision.

“This regulation was yet another attack on the middle class by the Obama Administration and was forced through despite significant concern from communities across the country,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement.

Tougher ozone standards, achieved quickly, would benefit tens of millions of Americans who live in counties with unhealthy air. That includes 17 million people in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties who breathe the nation’s worst-polluted air. After decades of reducing ozone levels, progress has faltered in recent years.

This year, ozone has exceeded the 70 ppb ozone standard on 37 days. That’s up from 33 days during the same time last year and 21 days in 2015, according to South Coast Air Quality Management District data through Monday.

Clean-air advocates say that means California pollution regulators must do more locally to reduce emissions. California adopted its own 70 ppb ozone standard in 2005, citing the threat to children’s health.

AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said “the best path forward toward meeting this standard is the one we are on now — implementing all feasible measures, fostering cleaner technologies and accelerating deployment of zero- and near-zero technologies.”

In 2015, the EPA estimated that achieving the 70 ppb limit by its 2025 deadline would prevent hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and missed school days for children and hundreds of early deaths from cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. It also said the savings from those health benefits would outweigh the billions of dollars in annual costs to the industry by about 4-1.

Obama gave California extra time to comply — until 2037 — because of the severity of its air pollution.

California air quality officials say they expect the EPA to extend the deadline until 2038.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to review its air quality standards for ozone and other pollutants every five years and adjust them if necessary to reflect the latest health science.

Ozone is such a widespread pollutant that obligations to keep reducing it have vexed previous administrations.

The administration of George W. Bush rejected recommendations for a tougher limit when it adopted the 2008 ozone standard of 75 ppb.

Obama’s EPA vowed to tighten ozone rules but set aside EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s recommendation for a 65 ppb standard during his reelection bid, leaving the Bush administration limit in place. When his administration ultimately tightened the standard in 2015, it selected a less protective standard than the 60 ppb public health groups had endorsed.



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