California Editorial Roundup
Posted May 17
Santa Rosa Press Democrat on Trump and Russia:
On the campaign trail as on his reality TV show, Donald Trump demonstrated a certain recklessness of speech that served him well. Audiences appreciated his blunt candor and his willingness to go off script, something they didn't see much from the other candidates. Although accuracy and discretion were often casualties of his loose talk, it didn't see him to hurt him much.
Even after taking the oath of office, Trump has not strayed far from his impetuous ways, whether through his Twitter account or his media interviews. But now his mouth appears to be becoming a real danger to not just him but, possibly, to the nation.
The latest example is a report from the Washington Post that Trump shared highly classified information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during their visit to the Oval Office on May 10. According to unnamed current and former U.S. officials referenced in the Post article, the information jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.
The newspaper reported that during the meeting, "Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft." He reportedly also disclosed the ISIS-held city where the source was able to obtain the intelligence. This was considered "code-word information," which is one of the highest levels of classified information.
Then the president did something remarkable. In his Twitter response on Tuesday morning he all but confirmed that the story was true. "As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety," Trump wrote.
H.R. McMaster, the president's top security adviser, has argued that what the president disclosed was "wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he's engaged." During a press briefing Tuesday, McMaster repeated his assertion that the president, "in no way compromised any sources or methods in the course of this conversation." But the national security adviser refused to confirm whether the information the president shared with the Russians was highly classified and other specifics of the Post article.
This is not the only dispute this week that had at its core Trump's recklessness of speech. A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday concerning Trump's revised immigration restrictions. Although defense attorneys argued that the wording of the revised plan clearly shows that it is not a prohibition against the followers of any particular faith, opponents have argued that its intent was clearly established by Trump during the campaign when he called for a complete shutdown of all travel into the U.S. by Muslims. So far, the courts have ruled that Trump's words and intent do matter and have blocked his bans from taking effect.
We don't know whether Trump truly disclosed highly sensitive information in a moment of intemperate candor with the Russians. But given the president's performance to date, it certainly rings true. And for the nation as a whole, that ringing should sound like an alarm. The president's poor judgment and lack of self-control is putting people at risk.
East Bay Times on Trump listening to McConnell:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday offered two rather startling bits of unsolicited advice to President Donald Trump that we wish he would heed. Unfortunately, it is unlikely he will.
First, McConnell said he would like to see "less drama" and more focus on policy from the White House.
"I think it would be helpful if the president spent more time on things we're trying to accomplish and less time on other things," McConnell told Bloomberg News on Tuesday.
Amen to that. This item is at the top of our wish list as well, but the truth is that as long as Trump continues to operate as if he is a contestant on the "Celebrity Apprentice" television show he hosted, drama will exist. Until Trump decides he wants to be the president of all the people instead of the winner in the confrontation of the day, we fear there will be near daily drama.
McConnell's second bit of counsel to his party's leader actually has two parts. First, McConnell wants the president to choose an "apolitical" FBI director, someone with extensive law enforcement background. Hard to argue with that one, but we won't hold our breath. Second, the Republican Senate Majority leader suggested that President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, would be such a man.
There is no shortage of irony here, since it was McConnell who saw to it that the Senate he controlled would not even consider Garland for the open court seat.
Granted, this part of McConnell's advice appears to conflict with the advice about the Trump White House cutting the drama. Such a selection would be remarkably dramatic itself.
However, if Trump really meant it when he said that he fired James Comey because he wanted "restore public trust in the FBI," this might be a bold step in that direction.
McConnell argues that a nominee like Garland, a judge and former federal prosecutor, would "create a kind of wow factor that the president fully understands the role of the FBI director."
Choosing Garland would almost certainly head off a Senate confirmation fight.
Unsaid in this narrative is that doing so might have the added benefit for Trump of getting out in front of the ever-mounting Russia stories that seem to dominate the news cycle. The downside, of course, is that whoever is nominated will be leading the FBI's investigations into those Russia connections. Trump might find it uncomfortable having someone in the director's chair who Barack Obama had chosen for the Supreme Court.
The mere suggestion of Garland by McConnell is a tacit admission that Garland was qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. Be that as it may, it is certainly an intriguing idea.
The Sacramento Bee on Democrats and kids in need:
Democratic legislators purport to defend foster kids, poor children who receive subsidized school lunches and English-language learners.
So they should have readily supported legislation that would have allowed those students to attend the public school of their choice. They didn't.
In Assembly Bill 1482, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Roseville, seeks to bar school districts from denying the transfer of students for whom English is a second language, foster children or kids who qualify for reduced-cost meals. It would be similar to existing laws that permit working parents and military parents to enroll their children in towns where they work.
At an Assembly Education Committee hearing last week, Kiley cited statistics showing California students who receive subsidized meals rank near the bottom nationally in math, reading and science.
A California School Boards Association lobbyist testified that the bill could apply to more than half the state's students and be "very disruptive." Kiley offered to cap the number of kids who could transfer. That didn't suffice. The bill failed by a 3-4 vote, with Democrats casting the "no" votes.
The skirmish is part of the larger war between advocates of greater public school choice, and much of the education establishment including the teachers' unions. EdVoice, funded by charter public schools advocates and a rival of the teachers union, supported Kiley's bill. It spent $10 million on California campaigns last year. The California Teachers Association is among the Democratic Party's biggest donors, and opposed the bill.
Kiley's bill raises a complicated issue. As kids bolt from their home districts, they lose state aid, which is based on attendance.
But that's not the concern of parents who are trying to find the best school for their children, noted Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego, the lone Democrat who voted for the bill. Parents want the best for their kids, and she and Kiley pointed out that parents of means figure out how to put their children in schools of their choice.
"In the end, the people who suffer the most from all the manipulation at the top are the kids who need the services the most," Weber said.
Kiley's bill wouldn't have altered the course of public education in California. But it would help a few kids and ought to be revived. It might disrupt the public school establishment, at the edges. But maybe any schools left in the lurch could use some disruption.
Los Angeles Times on no sanctuary for marijuana:
When Californians approved Proposition 64 to legalize marijuana in California last November, it was no secret that the drug would remain illegal under federal law. But that fundamental contradiction seemed manageable at the moment because the federal government had largely taken a hands-off approach to states that had already allowed the recreational sale and use of marijuana, and candidate Donald Trump had said he would let states decide on legalization.
The risk of a clash with the federal government seemed low compared with the benefit of replacing the state's quasi-legal medical marijuana regime and its underground market for recreational pot with a regulated and controlled system for adults. That's one reason The Times endorsed the proposition last year.
Now, however, we have President Trump, who seems to have forgotten his laissez faire stance on marijuana, and Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, who comes from the "Reefer Madness" school of law enforcement. Proponents of Proposition 64 — both the advocates of legalization and the businesses preparing to come out of the shadows into a legalized market — rightly worry that the federal government may decide to crack down on cannabis operators even if they fully comply with state rules.
It's understandable that state lawmakers want to resist potential federal intervention. But a proposal to make California a so-called sanctuary state for marijuana is not the way to go.
Assembly Bill 1578 would prohibit state and local agencies from using public resources to assist the federal government in investigating or arresting someone for marijuana activity that is allowed in California, unless the federal government has a court order. The author, Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), said the bill would ensure that police departments and other agencies don't use taxpayer dollars to help undermine the will of the voters.
He's modeled the legislation on Senate Pro-Tem Kevin de Leon's Senate Bill 54, the "sanctuary state bill," which would limit state and local agencies' cooperation in immigration enforcement.
Like SB 54, AB 1578 has raised concerns among law enforcement groups, which argue that local and federal authorities need to work together for public safety and shouldn't be overly restrained in their communications.
There are notable differences, however, between immigration laws and drug laws. Immigration is a strictly federal issue, and state and local governments should not be involved in enforcement — it's not their job.
On drug enforcement, however, there is considerable overlap. Local authorities often work with federal agencies on investigations that may uncover both state and federal violations, such as money laundering, diverting marijuana out of state for sales, and environmental damage from outdoor pot farms. The Jones-Sawyer bill would likely bar such cooperation if the target of the investigation is a licensed cannabis business in California. But just because an entity is licensed doesn't mean it is following the law.
State lawmakers in Washington and Colorado also considered sanctuary-like bills this year that would have barred local law enforcement and other public employees from assisting in federal crackdowns on people engaging in the marijuana activities the state had authorized. Colorado's bill died amid concerns that it could make it too difficult to conduct joint investigations into marijuana operations that were suspected of violating state laws in addition to federal ones. Washington's bill was spiked because of worries that it might antagonize and provoke the federal government — a fear echoed by the California League of Cities and other groups.
Oregon, meanwhile, passed a law that bars pot shops from keeping customer data, lest the federal government attempt to subpoena that information.
The federal government has certainly exercised ham-handed enforcement in the past, including targeting medical marijuana businesses that were authorized by their states. California lawmakers are right to be wary, and if Trump and Sessions do try to wreak havoc on cannabis users and businesses that abide by state law, legislators may ultimately have to respond. But rather than pick a fight now with the Trump administration that they may lose, legislators would do better to partner with other anti-prohibition states to lobby for a revision of federal marijuana laws or at least for a permanent federal policy shielding states with responsible cannabis regulatory regimes from federal enforcement.
Congress just approved a four-month extension of an amendment that has successfully prohibited the Department of Justice from spending federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana businesses that comply with their states' laws. That amendment should be extended further and could be broadened to include recreational marijuana. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) has introduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017 that would protect individuals from federal prosecution if they are adhering to state cannabis laws.
The number of states trying to end the prohibition on marijuana in favor of regulating it is growing, with Vermont, New Jersey and Delaware, among others, advancing proposals to legalize adult recreational use. And so far the Trump administration has not attempted to impede those efforts. It may be too much to expect Washington to stay this enlightened course, but Californians knew they were taking that risk when they voted for Proposition 64.
The San Diego Union-Tribune on 'WannaCry' cyberattack:
The world's collective need for a smarter approach to cybersecurity has been on display the last few days with the stunningly rapid spread of the WannaCry virus to 150 nations and counting. The ransomware encrypts the files of operating systems and demands Bitcoin payment to enable their recovery. Government agencies, factories, transportation systems and corporations have been among the many thousands of entities disrupted by WannaCry.
The obvious point in response to this crisis is to note that users who installed a Windows operating system patch issued by Microsoft in March were unaffected. Everyone and every institution with computers running a Windows OS should trust Microsoft and, if possible, set up these patches to automatically install instead of picking and choosing which patches they find worthy or blithely waiting to patch their systems until a threat emerges.
But Brad Smith, Microsoft's top lawyer, also makes a crucial point in noting that the ransomware was based on Microsoft OS vulnerabilities identified by the U.S. National Security Agency, which leaked last year. He decried the "disconcerting link between the two most serious forms of cybersecurity threats in the world today — nation-state action and organized criminal action" — and renewed Microsoft's call for a "Digital Geneva Convention" akin to past Geneva Conventions that imposed restrictions on how nations conduct war.
Such a convention would require nations to work with tech companies to identify and fix vulnerabilities in computer systems instead of exploiting them. This may seem unrealistic in a world in which the most powerful nations are engaged in cyber cold wars. But given that cybercrime grows worse and hurts more people every year, it's a worthwhile goal.