San Jose Mercury News and East Bay Times on court restoring humanity to transgender soldiers
In its flimsy justification, misstatement of facts and utter dearth of basic humanity, President Donald Trump's out-of-the-blue order to ban transgender individuals from the United States military in July was just plain mean.
On Monday, a particularly refreshing ruling by United States District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly put the purge on hold and laid out in plain language why it is not constitutional. We suspect even a right-leaning Supreme Court will agree.
When Trump's first tweetstorm about this hit during the summer, reaction in the Bay Area and across the country was strong. Transgender individuals and the people who know, respect and rely on them — whether in the neighbourhood, at the office or on a parched battlefield on the other side of the world — were floored.
So were the nation's military leaders. They didn't see it coming, didn't agree with it and frankly didn't need this disruption when they're fighting — how many wars now? With Niger, we've lost count.
When the official ruling came down in August, they were faced with not only stopping recruitment of transgender men and women at a time when they need all the good recruits they can get, but also with ridding their ranks of thousands of fine service men and women, including decorated heroes and members in command positions.
This ruling gives them a reprieve. If Trump fights to restore the discriminatory ban, we suggest the generals wait it out, focus on what's important and hope the Supreme Court sees things the way they do.
The one reason Trump gave for the ban was the cost of medical care for transgender soldiers. A military study in 2016 dismissed these costs as insignificant — projected to be about a tenth of 1 per cent of the Defence Department's health care budget — but Kollar-Kotelly made the right call here: She did not block the ban on funding gender reassignment surgery. That can be a separate fight. Making a whole class of U.S. citizens ineligible for military service needs to be the focus.
The judge held that the equal protection clause of the Constitution is at issue. She wrote that "the sheer breadth of the exclusion ordered by the directives, the unusual circumstances surrounding the president's announcement of them, the fact that the reasons given for them do not appear to be supported by any facts, and the recent rejection of those reasons by the military itself — strongly suggest that Plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment claim is meritorious."
Our quibble with this is the "unusual circumstances surrounding the president's announcement" part. Sadly, this president's usual circumstance of announcing momentous policy decisions is Twitter. @realDonaldTrump. OMG.
But for the rest, she's spot on. Unlike the president's legally murkier travel ban, which the Supreme Court has mostly upheld, the clarity of right and wrong with regard to the Constitution in this discrimination case is clear.
The Fresno Bee on gas tax increase
If they make it to the gas station without hitting a pothole, motorists stopping to fill up might do a double take.
Knowing there's little chance Congress will come to the states' aid with sufficient money for highway repairs, California's Legislature followed more than 20 other states in taking the bold if belated step earlier this year of jacking up the gasoline tax, starting Nov. 1. Pump prices jumped by 12 cents a gallon and 20 cents for diesel.
We support the gas tax increase, the first in 23 years. We have ignored our roads and other infrastructure for too long, and the bill is past due. Paying taxes is a cost of living in a society and providing safe roads is a basic government function. Now Caltrans must ensure that public trust and taxpayers' dollars won't go to waste.
For most people, the tax will be a blip, maybe the cost of a beer a month. But the tax will generate $5.2 billion a year, or $52 billion over the next decade to repair state and local roads, rebuild bridges, ease bottlenecks, and build more public transit. One sure way to avoid the tax would be to stop driving. But if you use the roads, you ought to chip in for their upkeep.
This being California, the hike will be the stuff of talk radio chatter. Having failed to qualify a ballot measure attacking public employee pensions in 2015, Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego Councilman and current talk show host, is trying to raise money for an initiative that would repeal the gas tax, and no doubt raise his profile. The anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is joining that effort, and some other conservatives likely will pile on.
The initiative they're touting for the November 2018 ballot is short-sighted. The wording would make it all but impossible to raise taxes to fund road repairs. At the same time, the California Republican Party, DeMaio, and L.A. radio personalities John and Ken are abusing the power of recall to unseat Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton.
They cynically claim they're attempting to recall him for his vote in favour of the gas tax, as if he committed treason. In reality, Newman won a seat in 2016 that Republicans thought they should have held. We trust voters in Newman's Fullerton-area district will see it for what it is: an attack on a legislator who voted his conscience.
The state already has been expediting projects, earmarking $278.3 million to repave Highway 50 from Interstate 5 to Watt Avenue in Sacramento, $99.9 million to improve 32 miles on Highway 99 in Fresno, and $15 million in San Luis Obispo to upgrade crossings to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. By the spring, Caltrans will have announced billions more in spending to ease gridlock and help fund more public transit.
As part of the tax and fee hike, the Legislature established targets to ensure work gets done, and created an inspector general to regularly report on its progress.
No one relishes spending money on gas taxes. But potholes don't fill themselves. So unglamorous though it is, we'll grumble and curse, and pay a little more - and it is a little, $2.40 a week if you use 20 gallons - for the privilege of driving on roads that won't knock our front ends out of alignment. Maybe, in time, we'll be able to get home at the end of the day a few minutes earlier.
The San Diego Union-Tribune on how Google, Facebook, Twitter should prevent election interference
The rise of digital media giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter has drastically changed how people get and share information, and thus how they make decisions — including how they vote. It was inevitable that at some point this would get the attention of America's political class — and would lead to calls for regulation.
That point has come. Two days of Senate hearings — prompted by still-simmering anger over Russian use of social media to manipulate the 2016 U.S. election — started Tuesday. Before the hearings, The New York Times, citing the tech firms, revealed that material linked to Russia reached 126 million Facebook users, was shared in 1.4 million Twitter messages from 36,000 accounts, and uploaded in 1,100-plus videos to Google-owned YouTube.
Though these estimates are much higher than previous ones, they're still just a tiny fraction of total traffic on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But there's no question this effort had an effect on the election — starting with the leaks that used hacked emails to show some ostensibly neutral leaders of the Democratic National Committee favoured Hillary Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Tuesday's hearing saw no pushback from tech officials to the idea that Russia used their companies for malign purposes. "The foreign interference we saw is reprehensible and outrageous and opened a new battleground for our company, our industry, and our society," Twitter lawyer Sean Edgett said.
Nevertheless, conflict appears to loom over the Honest Ads Act, the proposed social media regulations that have gotten the most attention so far. Introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and John McCain, R-Arizona, the bill has three key provisions. It would:
—Amend existing law to define paid internet and digital advertisements as types of regulated electioneering communication.
—Require large digital platforms to maintain a public file with details about all electioneering communications purchased by a group or individual who spends more than $500 on advertising.
—Require online platforms "to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate."
The Internet Association — a trade group founded by industry giants — accepts the need to regulate paid internet and digital advertisements. But it is rightly skeptical about internet firms being asked to follow vague rules and worried that disclosure rules could affect the privacy of advertisers.
Google, Facebook and Twitter better figure out what they can live with — and quickly — because there is a regulatory freight train bearing down on them. The Honest Ads Act is mild compared with what some of tech firms' critics want to do. Upset over what he sees as their monopoly power, Steve Bannon — the Breitbart boss who was President Donald Trump's chief strategist and still has his ear — has said he wants Facebook and Google to be regulated like utilities. Fox News host Tucker Carlson has said that Google should be.
That would be a disastrous mistake. Imagine direct government interference with the formerly free flow of information over the internet. That such an overreaction would even be considered shows how high the stakes are. If Google, Facebook and Twitter want to survive in something approaching their present form, the companies need to accept meaningful regulation — and be far more on guard about their platforms being used nefariously.
Such caution needs to extend beyond tech firms. The ease and speed with which information, fake or otherwise, spreads around the world makes everyone vulnerable to manipulation. It shouldn't have taken the 2016 election cycle to make this obvious, but it did — and now it's time for Americans and American institutions to guard against an encore.
Chico Enterprise-Record on alternative facts find home in California
The first time we heard one of President Trump's spokespeople broach the concept of "alternative facts," we hoped it would be an isolated incident. Not so, and the concept has even spread outside the White House.
Peculiarly, one of the new adopters of the idea is the administration of a guy who might be considered the anti-Trump: Gov. Jerry Brown.
Of course this latest lapse involves his beloved twin tunnels project, which has always seemed to be untrammeled by any pesky reality.
Two cases in point: On Oct. 17, the Santa Clara Valley Water District shot down the twin tunnels plan on a 7-0 vote.
That afternoon Brown issued a statement saying, "The board's vote today is a major step forward for California WaterFix and ensures that Santa Clara will have the water it desperately needs."
Now technically, the Santa Clara water board conditionally approved participating in the WaterFix, but only if seven conditions were met, including dropping the twin tunnels idea for a smaller project.
In other words, it told the state to throw out all the work that had been done on the project so far and start over. If it came up with something favourable for Silicon Valley, the district was in.
Point No. 2: On Wednesday, a top spokesman for the U.S. Interior Department, Russell Newell, responded to questions from The Associated Press regarding the twin tunnels that, "the Trump administration did not fund the project and chose to not move forward with it."
Asked if that meant the Trump administration did not support California's tunnels project, Newell said yes.
That's great news, according to a statement from Brown's Natural Resources Agency.
"The statement provided by the DOI confirms what the state and its water project partners already knew; while the federal government does not intend to fund the construction costs of the project they will continue working with the state and stakeholders to facilitate and permit WaterFix," spokeswoman Lisa Lien-Mager wrote.
Understand that all the planning on the project to bury two giant pipes under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta had always been based on the idea that federal water users would bear 40 per cent of the costs.
That was the case until the biggest of the federal water users — the Westlands Water District in the San Joaquin Valley — voted Sept. 19 not to participate. None of the other federal water users have signed on either.
But technically, the statement was correct: the federal government was never going to pay. Districts that get water from the federal Central Valley project were going to pay. Except they aren't.
We suppose this could all be written off to putting the best spin on things, but when the spin goes into an alternative reality it's hard to excuse.
There are no alternative facts. They're just lies.
Los Angeles Times on doubling entry fees pushes poor out of our most popular national parks
Our national parks face two persistent problems: Chronic underfunding that has led to a nearly $12-billion backlog in deferred maintenance projects, and massive crowds during peak seasons at the most popular destinations. Congress created much of the backlog problem by failing to properly budget for upkeep, which it needs to address. But the parks also are victims of their own success — visitors to Yosemite National Park alone surged from 3.9 million in 2010 to 5 million last year.
The Trump administration wants to address both problems by raising the entry fee during the peak season at 17 of the most popular nature parks to $70 per vehicle, more than doubling the current fee (the rate would double for motorcycles and walk-ins as well). But such "surge pricing" effectively closes the door to certain lower-income families, to the advantage of wealthier ones. That is fundamentally unfair.
There are better ways of addressing overcrowding than pricing out lower-income families. To alleviate the press of cars, the government could bar private vehicles during peak seasons and ferry people around on shuttles (ideally, buses that do not emit greenhouse gases). It could limit the number of vehicles allowed and award entry passes by lottery to reduce the volume of visitors. Rangers recommended last summer that Zion National Park adopt a reservation system for entry, much as it and other parks already use for controlling access to campsites, though it doesn't appear that the suggestion went anywhere. So there are other solutions.
The priorities here should be maintaining the parks (which Congress must fund), minimizing damage from overuse, and ensuring the parks are as accessible as possible to all without placing too high a financial burden on those who choose to visit them. The administration is right to recognize the maintenance backlog and overcrowding as problems, but it needs to go back to the drawing board for its solutions. The parks are a shared national treasure, and just as we should all be able to share equally in the benefits they bring, so too should we share the cost of maintaining them.