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Month in review: Protesters, pirates, GOP presidential hopefuls, media shakeups and one poor budget proposal

February 28, 2011 |  6:45 pm

For such a short month, a lot happened in February. Without further ado, here's the month at a glance:

Arab revolution: Egyptians continued to protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square as we sat on the edge of our seats wondering what would happen: Could a peaceful protest be powerful enough to force President Hosni Mubarak to step down? (Yes, on Feb. 11.) Would the Egyptian people be any better off with the army in charge? (Daniel Williams of Human Rights Watch wasn’t too optimistic.) Would women continue to feel empowered when the protests were over? (Reported incidents of rape during the post-Mubarak celebrations didn’t leave us hopeful.) How would the Obama administration finally respond? (With a “a garbled, contradictory message,” it turned out.)

Taking a page from Tunisia's and Egypt’s playbook, protesters took to the streets in other parts of the Middle East to rattle the palace windows in the Persian Gulf -- Bahrain, Libya, Yemen -- but were met with brutality ordered by the dictators of their countries, making for very different results.

While Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, noted in our Opinion pages that the protesters in the Middle East were “rendering a decade of U.S. policy irrelevant [and] transforming the region themselves,” Kenneth M. Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, wrote that the U.S. ought to embrace and lead a “comprehensive effort to enable economic, social and political reform across the Muslim Middle East.” Our Op-Ed columnist Doyle McManus echoed these sentiments in Helping the Arabs help themselves.

Protests in Wisconsin: The U.S. saw its share of protests in Wisconsin when Gov. Scott Walker threatened to take away the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. While Op-Ed columnist Jonah Goldberg took the view that public unions must go, Tim Rutten encouraged the protest in his column Busting the unions:

"For more than a century, democracies with modern economies have recognized the rights of workers to organize and to bargain collectively for wages, working conditions and benefits. Those rights are fundamental to a decent society."

As did the editorial board, which suggested:

"[T]he easiest thing would be to simply renegotiate separate contracts for newly hired workers. Indeed, Wisconsin's unions have shown every sign that they're willing to make sacrifices, if Republican leaders would listen."

National economy: In response to President Obama's overly tame budget  plan for 2012, the board said, "Congress has no chance of closing the budget gap unless lawmakers go to where the big money is: defense, entitlements and tax breaks."

In other gulp-worthy news, Susan Jacoby exposed the nest-egg myth in an Op-Ed about how so-called greedy geezers don't actually have enough money to live without Social Security and Medicare.  

And, in case you missed it: Op-Ed columnist Doyle McManus laid out Just the facts about Social Security.

On the plus side, the Obama administration laid out three options for reducing the government's role in home loans. From No Fannie, no Freddie: “Such an approach is likely to raise mortgage interest rates, especially for 30-year fixed loans, and could make it harder to get a mortgage during a financial crisis. But it would also greatly reduce the likelihood of taxpayers being stuck covering the cost if a downturn causes foreclosures to mount.”

California economy: Think our state’s economy is bad? It’s even worse in Texas, the very place conservatives are always telling us to copy. Not that California is doing that great. At the beginning of February, we asked Jerry Brown to give it to us straight: "California voters need the truth, without pandering or exaggeration, about what state budget cuts will be needed if temporary taxes aren't extended." Then we asked why taxpayers were paying the top Republican in the California Senate, Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga, if he seemed to have thrown in the towel.  As a way to save money, the board thought to rethink enterprise zones.  But as the Little Hoover Commission reported in its analysis of California’s pension costs, it’ll take a miracle to save us.

Los Angeles: Locally, Tim Leiweke and AEG presented plans for Farmers Field, should L.A. get its own pro football team. Cardinal Roger Mahony, hugely influential in L.A.’s social and political landscape, retired. And Tom Christie asked why DWP paid $350,000 to rent a pump that costs $35,000.

And, of course, the campaign for the March 8 city election heated up. Aside from the bare-knuckle politics and more bare-knuckle politics in the Council District 14 race between incumbent Jose Huizar and challenger Rudy Martinez, Measure L (for library funding) got people debating. For more on the March 8 election, including the Los Angeles Times endorsements, see our voter guide.

Just outside L.A., in Irvine, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas filed charges against the nonviolent protesters in the Irvine 11 case. Tim Rutten didn’t approve, nor did the editorial board.

The board did, however, take issue with the protests against the Koch brothers, the billionaires who’ve donated a significant amount of money to conservative causes. “We're no fans of the Kochs and their promotion of poisonous, self-dealing politics. But we'll defend their right to promote it.”

GOP pack: “There are really only two spots on the GOP presidential ballot. One is reserved for Mitt Romney. The other is for someone who isn't Mitt Romney,” wrote Doyle McManus on the eve of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that took place Feb. 10-12. He followed that up with a column about Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Debt and a tough-talking governor, who may very well end up running against Mitt Romney. Unless fans of Donald Trump get their way.

Speaking of Republicans: We weren’t pleased when House Speaker John A. Boehner reignited the “birther” blather about President Obama on “Meet the Press.” Nor did we like Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King’s  proposal that we make English the official language of the U.S.

Gay rights: February began with Barbara Bush endorsing same-sex marriage in New York. Then, last week, President Obama took a courageous stand against the Defense of Marriage Act. And, while some readers wrote in to voice their discomfort with same-sex marriage, the editorial board pressed on:

"Every day that the case drags on, gay and lesbian couples who would like to marry are being deprived of their civil rights. That's not our wording; the federal trial judge decided that issue, at least for now."

Women’s rights: Abortion rights and Planned Parenthood came under attack. The board advised against two bills in Congress that would “turn back the clock on women's rights to make their own medical decisions.” And Patt Morrison did her part to architect a shrewd plan to take on the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which voted to eliminate $317 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood, even though the money is not spent on abortion.

Shareholders’ rights: What will happen to Apple should it lose its ailing leader, Steve Jobs? How much information shareholders are entitled to receive?

Gun regulation:  Texas has a plan, a spectacularly bad one. A state lawmaker thinks the best way to ensure safety on college campuses is to allow students to bring their own guns to school.

Now, here’s a good, sensible plan for gun control.

Environment: California Sen. Dianne Feinstein took the House of Representatives to task for approving “legislation that irresponsibly eliminates a key Energy Department loan guarantee program that is helping grow California's renewable energy industry and creating jobs across Southern California.” The editorial board agreed, and wasn't too happy about Republicans dirtying the Clean Air Act either.

Elsewhere: Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Green the Capitol initiative ended (Stick a fork in it, we’re done).

Piracy: Somalia’s pirates struck again, killing four Americans. The question now is how we prevent this from happening in the future. Two ideas: The country needs a government, it needs laws and it needs a way out of poverty.

Media:Keith Olbermann left MSNBC for Current TV. And the Huffington Post merged with AOL, prompting backlash and speculation about the future of journalism. One thing we hope is that Hipstamatic doesn’t become a mainstay in photojournalism.

Arts and entertainment: "Watson," an IBM computer, took on Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on “Jeopardy!” making us ask: In man vs. machine, can machines win in the real world? If that man happens to be Charlie Sheen, the answer is no. Speaking of celebrity train wrecks, Lindsay Lohan appeared in court (wearing a white shrink-wrapped dress to portray innocence) on charges of felony grand theft for allegedly stealing a $2,500 necklace from a Venice boutique; the occasion sparked a debate among readers on whether she was being treated fairly by the judge.

Moving on: The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl, a day of pure Americana (and entertainment); Meghan Daum preferred the Westminster Dog Show to the Grammys (ouch!); Banksy, despite his unorthodox Oscar campaign, did not win an Academy Award for his documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop”; and James Franco flopped as an Oscar host.

--Alexandra Le Tellier

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