Sacramento Bee: "Gov. Brown, don't sign bill to allow noncitizen jurors"
American citizens routinely try to avoid jury duty, a basic responsibility of citizenship. Many citizens also decline to vote, a basic right of citizenship.
But now comes along a bill, Assembly Bill 1401, that calls into question the very meaning of citizenship. Should foreigners on the path to citizenship, who have the status of "lawful permanent residents" and hold green cards, be allowed to serve on California juries?
The Legislature, on a 25-11 vote in the Senate and a 48-28 vote in the Assembly, said these noncitizens should enjoy this right of citizenship.
Gov. Jerry Brown should veto the bill. Like voting or holding public office, jury duty is one of the ways that citizens share in the governance of our democratic republic
Lawful permanent residents are potential future citizens, who qualify for citizenship within five years. They should be encouraged to make the transition to citizenship — not provided incentives to avoid taking that final step. Why should green card holders become citizens if they can enjoy the rights of citizenship?
Nothing in the California or U.S. constitutions prohibits noncitizen service on juries. Proponents are correct that in the early days of the republic, courts in many states had the discretion to create half-citizen, half-noncitizen juries for cases that involved foreigners — for example, a criminal trial involving foreign sailors in the murder of a sea captain or a civil case involving foreign traders.
That argument is a dodge, however. AB1401 is not calling for the restoration of that medieval-origin medietate linguae ("half tongue") practice. It had disappeared worldwide by the late 19th century.
The main argument for AB1401 is that individuals should have access to a trial by a "jury of their peers." Just think about that. If an American citizen commits a crime or sues in commercial courts in Great Britain (or any other country with a jury system), should he expect a jury of British citizens — or of Americans? Foreigners among us deserve fair treatment in the courts, but they should not share in the governance structures that go to the heart of our representative government until they become citizens.
This is not, as Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez claims, like the exclusion of women or blacks from jury duty and voting. They fought long battles to win the rights and responsibilities of equal citizenship.
California has 3.4 million green card holders, and 2.5 million of them are eligible for citizenship. They should be encouraged to go through that process.
AB1401 does not deal with a more vexing issue, which is that we have millions of potential Americans among us who are denied a path to citizenship. We have so many barriers to legal immigration that many people are in the United States illegally. That is a matter for Congress to fix — and that is where our Legislature and Gov. Brown should focus.
Brown signed a bill Tuesday that allows noncitizens to serve as poll workers. He should not go further and agree to let green-card holders serve on juries.
Contra Costa Times: "Years of deceit at the root of soaring tax bills for West Contra Costa schools"
Many West Contra Costa school district residents will be shocked when they open their upcoming property tax bills. The rate for repayment of school construction bonds will increase 30 percent from last year.
Blame the district's overly ambitious rebuilding program, wildly optimistic property value forecasts and failure to leave margin for unexpected events, such as the fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond that dragged down its property taxes and left everyone else to make up the difference.
But most of all blame a deceptive school district political campaign over the past 15 years that convinced voters to pass six separate bond measures, never once telling them the cumulative effective of all that borrowing.
The biggest culprits in this charade are Trustee Charles Ramsey, who has made the building program his personal crusade-at-all-costs, and district superintendents, most recently Bruce Harter, who signed deceptive ballot tax rate statements.
School districts across the state carry on similar scams, but West Contra Costa raised it to a uniquely high level. In a 10-year period the district issued more bonds for school construction than any other K-12 district in the state except much-larger San Diego and Los Angeles.
They're not done — not by a longshot. This year, district officials plan to issue another $125 million of bonds. And they can legally do it.
That's because West Contra Costa voters in elections from 1998 to 2012 gave the district permission to issue $1.6 billion of school construction bonds. So far, the district has borrowed $912 million and, after repayments, owes $718 million.
To pay the debt, the district tacks charges onto property tax bills. The amounts are determined in part by the total assessed value of property in the district. For years, district officials have claimed that total would rapidly rise, thereby keeping down the tax rate needed to pay off the bonds.
That hasn't happened.
In 2010, district officials forecast that the assessed value of all property in the district would increase 19 percent by now. Instead, it has declined 6 percent. Nevertheless, the district has continued to issue more bonds.
The result: Property owners last year paid about $216 for every $100,000 of assessed property value to retire school construction bond debt. This year, the rate will increase to about $282. Thus, the owner of a home assessed at $300,000 will pay $846. Forecasts show that rate will continue to rise.
District officials claim this is what residents wanted. But that's a difficult leap since voters were never told the full truth, or warned of the risks, before they voted.
Santa Cruz Sentinel: "Sad curtain call for Shakespeare Santa Cruz"
We can't help but mourn in advance the impending curtain call for Shakespeare Santa Cruz, even if the reasons to end the theater troupe's 32 years of performances are perfectly understandable.
The announcement Monday by UC Santa Cruz arts dean David Yager that Shakespeare Santa Cruz's chronic financial problems have reached a point of no return came as something of a shock to the arts community, even if they'd had years to prepare themselves for just such a possibility.
The bottom line is that in a time when UCSC has struggled to offer a full complement of classes and keep its expenses in line, SSC has continued almost in a midsummer night's dream world where the difference between revenue and expenses would somehow be rewritten or upstaged in a deft stroke of the pen.
Isn't that what happened five years ago, when the university, realizing it could no longer support SSC, was ready to dim the stage lights on the celebrated theater company?
But Santa Cruz, the community, rallied and was able to raise enough money to keep Shakespeare Santa Cruz alive.
Apparently, that reprieve was not accompanied by an acknowledgement a new fiscal discipline would need to be imposed.
According to the university, nothing much changed, financially, as SSC's cumulative debt increased an alarming $500,000 in the fiscal year that just ended, to a total of nearly $2 million. And that figure becomes even more dramatic considering UCSC contributed $250,000 to Shakespeare Santa Cruz's operating budget and expenses during the year. Without that contribution, SSC's expenses would be $750,000 over revenues, which include ticket sales, sponsorships and donations.
Yager acknowledged that the timing of his announcement was awful — SSC's final week of the summer season concludes this weekend, but that it was better to inform all parties sooner than later, though we have to wonder considering the size of the deficit, why it was allowed to get worse.
But no longer. This time, Yager said, there will be no second life for SSC. After years of trying to find a way to keep SSC running, the prospect of choosing between cutting arts classes and continuing to prop up the theater group was no choice at all.
It's a painful loss.
For many Santa Cruz County residents, their main interaction with UCSC has been through Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Many families made the summer plays an annual outing, and the holiday plays — this season's will proceed — always seemed to draw a contingent of delighted younger theatergoers and older audience members.
At the same time, 32 years is a lot of plays, a lot of Shakespeare — and the audience for SSC isn't getting any younger, especially since a post-literary generation might not have the same appreciation for Elizabethan drama and comedy, no matter the staging or modern retellings.
What's also sad is that this year's summer season — featuring the Bard's "Taming of the Shrew" and historical piece, "Henry V" — have drawn nearly universal praise, much to the credit of SSC's artistic director for the past five years, Marco Baricelli, who took on the narrator's role in "Henry V."
Baricelli told the Sentinel he was surprised to be told about the impending demise of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, but that the decision won't affect this summer's final performances.
"The work is the work," said Baricelli. "At least we'll have that three hours a night on stage to pour our hearts and passions into."
Parting would be such bittersweet sorrow.
Or, as his father's ghost would implore Hamlet, "Adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember me."
Los Angeles Times: "Make the Internet dog-friendly"
With the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 woefully out of date, the federal licensing gap for breeders who sell online needs to be eliminated.
Many large-scale commercial breeders of dogs that sell to pet stores have been criticized by animal welfare advocates and public officials as puppy mills, where female dogs are often overbred in inhumane conditions.
Nonetheless, large breeders of animals for the pet trade are required to be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and to meet very minimal standards of care set by the Animal Welfare Act. That, at least, gives the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service the power to inspect facilities and penalize or close down bad operators.
But large-scale breeders increasingly conduct their business over the Internet, selling directly to customers rather than pet stores, and the Animal Welfare Act doesn't subject online sellers to licensing and regulation.
Even USDA officials say breeders selling online or by mail or phone are taking advantage of a loophole that improperly exempts them from licensing. Last year, the USDA proposed a change in the rules that would eliminate that loophole. Now it's time to put such a rule officially in place.
The Animal Welfare Act, which was passed in 1966, long before the Internet, exempted from licensing very small-scale breeding operations (three or fewer female animals) and retail pet stores. The rationale was that the stores were selling to local customers, who could see the animals in person before purchasing them as well as observe the conditions of the store.
Breeders selling online have been classified as retail pet stores because they sell directly to the public. But most of that is interstate commerce, and buyers almost never see the animal in person before ordering it or the conditions under which it was kept. And the breeders aren't regulated by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
"Without consumer oversight or APHIS inspections, there is no assurance that the animals are monitored for their overall health and humane treatment," USDA officials wrote in a 2010 audit of the inspection program. The audit pointed out that some Internet breeders were very large, noting that one had 140 breeding dogs.
Allowing commercial breeders to sell over the Internet without federal licensing subverts the intent of the Animal Welfare Act and leaves hundreds of animals at the mercy of unregulated breeders. USDA officials, animal welfare advocates and members of Congress have all said as much.
The government should issue a final rule that makes it clear that breeders selling online are not retail pet stores and should be regulated by the USDA like any other large-scale commercial breeder.
U-T San Diego: "Two developments on the anti-veterans front"
The Department of Veterans Affairs deserves its rotten reputation. For years, stories have documented how it can take agonizingly long for wounded veterans returning to civilian life to have their claims processed by the VA. Reviews of nearly two-thirds of the current pending 780,000 claims are at least 125 days behind.
But guess who thinks the VA is doing an amazing job? The people running the department.
A new report says that in 2011, VA executives approved giving about 70 percent of claims processors $5.5 million in bonuses for their allegedly "excellent" work — for a year in which the claims backlog soared 155 percent.
Incredibly, the bonuses were based on job-performance standards that encouraged processors to put aside more difficult claims and focus on the easiest ones. No wonder some claims take years to process.
Unfortunately, there's still more news on the anti-veterans front. The American Legion and its 2.4 million members are now being forced by the Internal Revenue Service to comply with onerous bureaucratic requirements for the first time since the veterans-support group was formed by a 1919 act of Congress. The IRS says the Legion must maintain much more comprehensive records on its members' military service.
Why? Is there any evidence the Legion has abused its tax-exempt status?
The IRS is mum. The White House shouldn't be.
The Orange County Register: "Racial bias hasn't disappeared, but is less a hindrance than it was 50 years ago"
Three days before he stood atop the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered one of the most momentous speeches in the history of the Republic, Martin Luther King Jr. appeared on the NBC interview program "Meet the Press," during which he laid out his vision for a colorblind society.
It is worth recalling the remarks the much-revered civil rights leader uttered to a national television audience in 1963 as tens of thousands of celebrants gather today in the nation's capital to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Under questioning from a panel of journalists, Dr. King declared that the black population had "waited for well now 345 years for our basic constitutional and God-given rights."
He also lamented that, 100 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which outlawed the continued enslavement of blacks, the descendants of those whom the Great Emancipator set free remained "at the bottom of the economic ladder."
Before the nation would see the end of the racial unrest witnessed in 1963, "the Negro's demand for equality must be approximated," said Dr. King, if not totally fulfilled. That meant "the barriers of segregation must be removed," he told his interviewers, as well as the equally malignant "barriers of discrimination."
It all seemed a dream to Dr. King, as he stood before a throng of more than 200,000 on that historic August day in 1963. And, were he alive today, we imagine he would take a certain pride in the considerable progress the black population has made on multiple fronts since the March on Washington.
Indeed, to mark the milestone anniversary of what the New York Times in 1963 described as "the greatest assembly for a redress of grievances that (the) capital has ever seen," the U.S. Census Bureau released a report last week that reminds us of the fruits of the civil rights movement.
In 1966, 42 percent of blacks lived in poverty. By 2011, the black poverty rate had fallen to 28 percent. In 1964, the black median income was $22,266 (in 2011 dollars). By 2011, it had risen to $40,465. In 1964, 4 percent of blacks were college graduates. By 2012, 21 percent blacks of boasted college diplomas.
In 1970, there were fewer than 1,500 black elected officials. By 2011, there were roughly 10,500. That included the occupant of the highest office in the land, President Barack Obama. His historic election in 2008 truly was the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream in 1963 of "a day when people will not be judged by the color of the skin, but by the content of their character."
That's not to say that the "demand for equality" Dr. King enunciated a half-century ago has been fully realized. But we respectfully disagree with the 27 percent of blacks who, according to a poll released last week by the Pew Research Center, say America has made little or no progress toward racial equality since the 1963 March on Washington.
We suspect the decidedly downcast respondents to the Pew poll confused equal opportunity with equal result. For instance, black and white high school graduates have an equal opportunity today to enroll in the college of their choice. But once they are in the classroom, there is no guarantee of equal results. Their grades are determined by their individual initiative.
Now, we are under no illusion that, in 2013, racial bias has been entirely eliminated throughout the fair land. But we also think it self-evident that segregation and discrimination are no longer impenetrable barriers to upward mobility for the vast majority of the black population.
That is something Americans of all races can celebrate as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the March of Washington.