Los Angeles Times on voters deserving to know who's paying for political campaigns
A typical political ad for a ballot measure in California might include something like this: "Paid for by Yes on Proposition 99 - Good Jobs and Safe Streets, with major funding by People for Good Jobs and Safe Streets."
This meets the legal requirement of disclosure under current rules, but it doesn't give voters any help at all identifying the real people, organizations and industries propping up this fictional initiative. In fact, it may even be misleading. And in this post-Citizens United world, where campaign spending has soared, clear disclosure of who is funding measures and candidates is more important than ever.
Granted, California's campaign finance filings can help voters track down the people and organizations spending on campaigns. But most voters don't have the time or inclination to vet every political ad they see. That's why it makes sense to update the requirements for disclosure as proposed by AB 249, which would require that the top three funders of ads supporting or opposing a ballot measure be identified transparently and prominently in the ad. The same would apply to ads about a candidate, if the ads weren't paid for by the candidate or a political party. The bill would put California at the forefront of campaign finance disclosure.
Vaguely named campaign committees exist to obscure the role of special interests. Here's just one example: Proposition 37 in 2012 would have required the labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms. The main opponent to the measure was something called the "Coalition against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition," which spent $44 million on political ads to defeat to measure. The top donor to that coalition was Monsanto, an agribusiness company and the biggest supplier of GMO seeds. Other donors included Dupont, Pepsico and a host of food and beverage companies that would have been forced to change their labels. The top opponents might not have been a surprise in this case, but they weren't obvious, and they should have been.
The bill is now awaiting action by Gov. Jerry Brown. And although it passed with bipartisan support in the Legislature and is supported by prominent good-government groups, including the California Clean Money Campaign, California Common Cause, League of Women Voters of California and Maplight, the governor's appointed chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, Jodi Remke, has voiced concern that the bill might make it harder to stop special interests from circumventing contribution limits. Other campaign experts disagree with her assessment, however. And in any case, the potential problem she identified is minor in comparison to California taking the lead in shining a light on dark money.
The San Diego Union-Tribune on Las Vegas shooting showing social media can't cull fake news from facts in a crisis
Many Americans have spent months stewing about "fake news" and how social media can pump falsehoods and mean-spirited myths into everyday life. Yet the giants of modern information dissemination - Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter, for starters - were slow to address - and, in Facebook's case, downright dismissive of - the idea that they were to blame for mushrooming fictitious or inflammatory posts. They did so even as it became clear some posts were part of covert Russian attempts to divide Americans in the 2016 presidential campaign and in other political skirmishes.
It was only Saturday, while marking the end of Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day of atonement, that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apologized for how his company was used: "For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask for forgiveness and I will work to do better," he wrote on Facebook.
The next night, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history happened in Las Vegas, and once again, users of the tech platforms were sharing untruths and malign speculation. As BuzzFeed's deputy global news director noted on Twitter, Google's "top stories" results at one point featured posts from the notorious 4chan forum speculating inaccurately about the identity of the Mandalay Bay shooter. A reporter for The New York Times documented how Facebook's Trending Stories highlighted news from Sputnik, a Russian propaganda site, and featured a false post asserting the FBI blamed the slaughter on Muslim terrorists. At the same time, a "Las Vegas Shooting/Massacre" Facebook group sprung up and quickly grew to more than 5,000 members after the killings; it was run by Jonathan Lee Riches, a serial harasser with a criminal background and a history of farcical lawsuits, as The Atlantic pointed out.
All of this raises some doubt about whether Google and Facebook - among the richest and most successful companies in global history - can create foolproof algorithms that instantly evaluate what content is worth promoting and what content is best ignored in a time of crisis. It also raises some questions about whether the two companies, which have spent vast sums on artificial intelligence research, can develop reliable, smart AI to protect the public from being manipulated and incited.
Facebook, for now, appears to recognize how much better it needs to do. Recode reported Sunday that Facebook plans to hire 1,000 more people to review and consider removing ads, to bar ads that show even "subtle expressions of violence," to "require more thorough documentation" from those who want to buy political ads on the platform and to eventually make it easy to see all ads on a Facebook page, not just ones targeting certain users.
More traditional media outlets are also moving to quash fake news. On Tuesday, the News Media Alliance began the second phase of a national campaign to emphasize the value of "real news produced by trusted news organizations" that rely on "high-quality, investigative journalists."
Ultimately, news literacy matters. Algorithms and better corporate monitoring of social media content will never be enough, and everyone needs to develop the tools for evaluating what content is credible, what is junk and what absolutely needs confirmation before being shared. Consider the source. Check the URL. See who else is reporting it. Read it before sharing. Still unsure? Ask a friend - or verify it online. The internet is still good for that.
The Modesto Bee on finding a way to end nationwide gun violence
The survivors heard popping noises, like fireworks. Only when people began dropping did they realize the noises weren't fireworks, but gunshots.
Fifty-nine murdered; 525 wounded. This is unfathomable, indefensible; yet, only the scale makes it shocking. We're used to senseless wholesale murder by now.
That someone would acquire a small arsenal, haul it to the 32nd floor of a high-rise Las Vegas hotel, then rain hundreds of deadly rounds into a packed crowd of innocent people below, is horrendous beyond words.
But we've seen such madness before. Forty-nine dead in Orlando in 2016. Fourteen in San Bernardino in 2015. Twenty-six at Sandy Hook, Conn., in 2012. Thirty-two at Blacksburg, Va., in 2007. The slaughter goes on.
It was worse in Las Vegas. The only warning 22,000 concertgoers got as the madman put them in his sights were the reports from the bullets he fired.
This week, the House of Representatives is scheduled to consider a bill - essentially written by the National Rifle Association - that will remove the ban on silencers. If the madman's shots had been silenced, would even more have died?
There's no good reason to remove this ban; no public good being served. The NRA simply dislikes any limit on its immoral pursuit of profits. We already have enough guns to arm every man, woman and child in America; so now they want to sell deadly accessories.
It gets worse. In the same damnable bill, the "Sportsmen's Heritage And Recreational Enhancement Act," would allow armor-piercing bullets to be sold under the guise of "sport" - though we've never seen an armored deer. What this law will really do is make it easier for madmen to kill us more efficiently and quietly.
We're not asking for a gun ban or that law-abiding people give up their guns. We're asking Republicans to stand against legislation that makes everyone less safe.
Even if this bill fails, there are others in the pipeline. Later this year, Congress will consider a bill requiring states with sensible gun control measures - such as California - to honor concealed-carry permits issued by states with weaker laws.
In a less polarized time, sensible Republicans considered this an infringement on states' rights. But this year, 13 California Republicans are co-sponsoring "reciprocity legislation," one of the NRA's top priorities.
Rep. Jeff Denham has not signaled how he will vote on the reciprocity bill, but he isn't among its 212 Republican co-sponsors. We hope that means he'll vote against it. We hope, too, that he will cast his vote against legalizing cop-killer bullets and overturning the 75-year-old ban on silencers.
If he does, he's likely to be a lonely Republican. Two weeks ago, Rep. Tom McClintock defended lifting the silencer ban in a press release: "Suppressors are important devices to reduce hearing damage for shooters - my father suffered from it - as well as to reduce noise at shooting ranges located near residential areas."
Hearing loss? Those who visit shooting ranges or carry guns into the field wear headsets or ear plugs or both. Fifty cents worth of foam works better than a $1,000 silencer.
We suggest co-sponsors McClintock, Devin Nunes and David Valadao tune out the sinister whispers of gun lobbyists and listen instead to the cries of the wounded in Las Vegas. Or the echoes of those who died in San Bernardino or Blacksburg or Sandy Hook. In memory of those who have died, don't make it easier to kill more of us.
Chico Enterprise-Record on another hike expected for Chico State students
Last month we caught grief from a university professor after we dared to suggest that the university should at times be run more like a business.
The context was our defense of university administrators for canceling some sections of classes that didn't have what they considered to be an adequate number of students. It seemed like a wise move to us. If you don't have a lot of interest in the classes, you don't need to keep offering so many sections of that class.
It's simple supply and demand, but that free-market concept didn't sit well with some on campus - particularly lecturers who lost part of their income when they lost their class. University administrators were not popular after the decision.
But the university doesn't have an unlimited supply of tax dollars. Everyone on campus knows that, as much as some of them try to discount that fact.
Now there's another example of how the university could benefit from a little business sense.
The university system announced this week that it had reached a tentative contract agreement with the professors union. That, by itself, is wonderful news. The raises won't break the bank - 3.5 percent a year from now, an additional 2.5 percent the following year. Best of all, it's a two-year extension that came as a surprise. There were no rallies. No demonstrations. No black T-shirts. No professors trying to win the sympathy of their students. No demonizing anyone who questioned whether the raises were warranted.
We've often said we wish public employee unions and their bosses would do their negotiating in private, come to an agreement, then present it to taxpayers before it's approved. Instead, they too often negotiate in public. That serves nobody.
That behind-the-scenes approach is exactly what was done this time - to the public's relief, because we won't be hauled into the fight.
But there's one little problem. And this is where a business mind would help.
The raises are a new expense totaling about $120 million in new costs for the 2019-20 school year, according to a California State University spokeswoman. It would be wise for somebody to ask, "Where are we going to get that money?"
Ideally that would be the CSU board of trustees, but it's a board of appointed rubber-stampers who rarely ask tough questions like, "Can we afford this?"
Instead, what's likely to happen is that students will pick up that $120 million tab.
The cost of higher education continues to skyrocket for students despite continual lip service that we're pricing many young people out of a more promising future.
The Legislature, though, decided how much money the CSU gets each year. It has been inclined to give higher education more money each year, but not as much as the CSU and the UC want - so the systems fix their problem by making the lack of funding the students' problem.
When the trustees approve the raises, they should at least be honest with students about what's coming next.
The Santa Clarita Valley Signal on lack of year-round homeless shelter
We are pleased to pause and congratulate both the city of Santa Clarita and the nonprofit Bridge to Home for resolving a big gap in Santa Clarita Valley services: the lack of a year-round homeless shelter.
In a unanimous vote during last Tuesday's Santa Clarita City Council meeting, council members agreed to sign over a parcel of city-owned Drayton Street property to Bridge to Home. The nonprofit currently operates a winter homeless shelter on the parcel.
The move makes more Measure H funds available to Bridge to Home so it can extend operation of the shelter to year-round status, Councilman Bill Miranda said during the proceedings.
There are, of course, hoops still to be jumped through for the deal to become final.
Measure H was approved countywide in a special election held in March this year. It hiked the county sales tax by one-quarter percent for 10 years to raise money to help relieve homelessness in Los Angeles County.
Out of concern that the city's homeless would not receive their fair share of Measure H benefits should the measure pass, Mayor Cameron Smyth formed a city ad hoc committee on homelessness in February "so we can put something together with the nonprofits, government agencies and possibly the private sector" as a Santa Clarita plan for the homeless.
The transfer of the Drayton Street property is the first tangible evidence of benefits from Measure H for SCV's homeless.
For years, both the desirability of a Santa Clarita Valley homeless shelter and its best location have been hotly debated, particularly within the business community.
Initially, proponents of a shelter had to battle the "If you build it, they will come" school of thought, which held that a homeless shelter will just attract homeless to the valley, and the best plan was to keep a shelter out of the area.
Gradually, local business leaders were convinced otherwise and stepped up in support of a shelter. The issue became where to put it, and for years it bounced between public property sites within the valley.
Nobody wanted it in their backyard, including residents of areas around the Via Princessa Metrolink Station, one of its more recent temporary homes.
The discussion had turned to moving the shelter to the grounds of the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic when the city agreed to a year-to-year deal at Drayton Street. Drayton is in an industrial area running alongside the railroad tracks east of Railroad Avenue in Saugus.
Tuesday's council vote makes the location official, although business owners in the area objected.
"Drayton Street is a terrible location for a homeless shelter," said Lyle Olsen, co-owner of a neighboring business, during Tuesday night's council meeting. "There's no street lights, no pedestrian crossing, no crosswalk, no caution sign, with the nearest fire hydrant 500 feet away."
Councilman Bob Kellar noted the city would need to improve lighting and infrastructure but added, "This location is probably as good as it's going to get for a permanent homeless shelter."
Volunteers for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority counted 331 homeless residents in the Santa Clarita Valley last January when it conducted its most recent count, up from 316 in 2016. Most, surveys have indicated, were residents of the Santa Clarita Valley before losing their homes.
A city spokeswoman said Friday that the next ad hoc committee on homelessness meeting has not yet been scheduled. The city has held them about once a month.
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