History
Rob Rogers

Los Angeles Times

The federal Wilderness Act of 1964 was not vague about its intent: to protect significant and as-yet unspoiled land and wildlife habitat from the ravages of “an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization.” Humans could visit, but only under certain conditions, and they couldn’t stay permanently.

Preserving land and seeking to maintain it as close to its “natural condition” as possible required developing strict access rules: Everyone is welcome to trek through designated national wilderness areas provided they use their feet or those of horses or other pack animals. No motor vehicles or boats, nor “other form of mechanical transport” are allowed. Years later, the Americans with Disabilities Act made wheelchairs an exception.

Now, Congressman Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove), who represents wilderness areas in the Sierra Mountains, is proposing a rule change to allow mountain bikers to cruise through the approximately 109 million acres of land designated as wilderness across the country. Game carts, strollers and wheelbarrows would be welcome too.

It’s a bad idea — if for no other reason than it cracks open the door for other changes that violate the spirit of the Wilderness Act. If you say yes to mountain bikers, how do you say no to mountain skateboards (yes, they are a thing)? Or to hang gliding and parasailing, activities that also are excluded from wilderness areas? Or snowmobiling and power boating? These lands were not set aside to be playgrounds for humans, but to preserve their continued existence as wilderness. Besides, wilderness areas account for just one-sixth of federal public lands, leaving plenty of other outdoor space for biking and other forms of human recreation.

We should be even more careful about these areas in light of recent attacks on protected public lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and two national monuments in Utah, all of which are being opened up for destructive uses like drilling and mining.

McClintock says this bill is simply a restoration of the “original intent” of the Wilderness Act. Sorry, that’s fake news. Just ask Edward Zahniser, a former park official and the son of the man who wrote the original act. “How could they possibly say the original act allows this? They are just making it up,” he told the Los Angeles Times. Bicycles are clearly an example of the “mechanized transportation” barred by the act, and were hardly unknown in 1964 when it was passed.

Hikers and conservationists aren’t thrilled with the prospect of opening wilderness trails like the Pacific Crest Trail to mountain bikers. But not all mountain bikers are cheering it on, either. The International Mountain Bicycling Assn. decided not to support McClintock’s bill, saying, “Public lands are being threatened at an unprecedented level, and it’s imperative that public land users come together to protect these cherished places.”

A clutch of mountain bikers is probably no more destructive to the wilderness environment than a horse train (though it may well destroy the peace and tranquility of the hiker who finds herself on a narrow mountain trail with a pack of mountain bikers bearing down). But relaxing access rules is a path that leads to, well, more paths. And then roads. Pretty soon, you have cars and restrooms and escalators and gift shops and not a whole lot of wilderness left.

Exxon finally comes clean on climate change

The Dallas Morning News

Exxon Mobil recently announced plans to begin disclosing more details about how climate change could affect its business. The Irving, Texas, oil giant said in a regulatory filing it will offer shareholders more information about how changes in global demand for energy and policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions could impact the company’s bottom line.

A group of shareholders has been calling for these types of disclosures for years, but Exxon, once a climate change denier, maintained that forecasts of what that means for shareholders were impossible to make. Exxon’s move shows that limits to carbon dioxide emissions are serious and cannot be ignored. We applaud this transparency.

Sex education in schools should cover consent

The Seattle Times

As the #MeToo movement has unearthed myriad accounts of sexual assaults and unwanted advances, several of the accused — from Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose — have said they believed the encounters were consensual.

False accusations of sexual assault are statistically rare. But putting that aside, saying these acts were consensual is a convenient defense that overlooks what could have been a simple solution: If unsure whether someone wants to engage in sexual activity, just ask.

Putting this into practice may be awkward for some. But that is exactly why young people need to learn how to communicate about sexual consent earlier in life — at home and in the classroom.

Public schools in King County are on the right track by incorporating lessons about affirmative sexual consent into their curricula, as reported in a recent Seattle Times article. By emphasizing that students should ask for and receive a “yes” before proceeding with sex, rather than stopping only if their partner says “no,” schools can combat cultural influences that contribute to sexual assaults. These include gender norms that encourage men to be sexual “conquerors” while discouraging women from speaking up.

This “yes means yes” model also teaches students that if someone is too intoxicated to say yes, they cannot consent to sex — a point that cannot be emphasized enough.

Studies have found that a person’s understanding of consent relates to how likely they are to commit sexually aggressive acts. Addressing the topic in school not only makes sense, it is long overdue.

Parents should be having these conversations with their children, too. Given how much confusion still seems to surround the concept of sexual consent, discussing it more — and earlier — can only make things clearer.

“No” always means “no.” But we must also teach our young people to check in with their partners to ensure they are actually saying “yes.”

To preserve democracy, we must end foreign meddling

The Dallas Morning News

Each day, we learn more about how foreign sources use our own campaign finance laws and social media opportunities to try to influence U.S. elections.

We only have ourselves to blame if we don’t demand accountability from candidates, political action committees and Congress. We must require them all to face up to this ugly truth. A core principle of American democracy, free and fair elections, is under attack. None of us can stay on the sidelines as bad actors attempt to tamper with the outcome of presidential elections and foment doubt about our democratic processes.

Shining a public spotlight on these connections is the best way to unmask the threat. Ruth May, a business professor at the University of Dallas and an expert on the economies of Russia and Ukraine, wrote a compelling connect-the-dots commentary for this newspaper on this very point. After scouring publicly available campaign finance reports, she spotted troubling connections between wealthy donors with ties to Russia and their legal political contributions to President Donald Trump and a number of top Republican leaders.

May is not the only one to document the assault and the depths of this danger. Washington Post reporters recently detailed how at least two administrations saw signs but failed to act. Former President Barack Obama naively dismissed early warnings of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and President Donald Trump has gone to great lengths to push back against mounting evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to build a disinformation campaign. Denial and inaction aren’t in this nation’s best interest.

We better get a lot smarter and faster. This includes rethinking how our campaign finance laws and social media bots are being used against us. In a nation that cherishes freedom, that’s easier said than done. Nonetheless, we must have this conversation and be prepared to defend ourselves.

It’s time to develop a comprehensive strategy to protect the integrity of our elections. If we don’t, Russia and other bad actors will double down, and that cannot be tolerated.

Talks between the Koreas could be productive

Los Angeles Times

Only a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un essentially threatened the United States with a nuclear attack, the government of South Korea on Tuesday agreed to talks between the two Koreas. Ostensibly the meeting proposed for Jan. 9 will be about cooperation on next month’s Winter Olympics, but it also could signal a larger and more consequential dialogue between North and South.

The Trump administration is understandably wary of Kim’s interest in talks with the South, concerned, not without reason, that he may be attempting to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its ally. But that hardly explains President Trump’s intemperate response. After initially responding cautiously to the news — suggesting that North-South talks might be “good news” — Trump on Thursday evening was back in a belligerent mood. Belatedly addressing Kim’s reckless claim that he had a nuclear button on his desk, Trump answered with some recklessness of his own: “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

We can only hope that Trump’s advisers will talk him back from this latest outburst. They should tell him that more engagement and more talk are generally good things. Negotiations between North and South Korea could serve to de-escalate tensions that have been elevated by the North’s recent testing binge and exacerbated by presidential tweets like this one and Trump’s reckless talk of “fire and fury.”

It’s also possible — though the odds are long — that talks between the two Koreas could pave the way for a resumption of negotiations that would include U.S. participation. These could be either bilateral talks or a return to the so-called six-party talks that also involved representatives from China, Japan and Russia. Those negotiations collapsed in 2009.

The Trump administration has sent maddeningly mixed signals about the conditions under which the U.S. would return to the table; at one point Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would have a meeting “without preconditions”; later he said that North Korea would have to earn the right to talks by ceasing nuclear and missile tests. Trump has insisted that the U.S. would discuss a “brighter path for North Korea” only “if its leaders cease their threats and dismantle their nuclear program.”

While it is certainly true that North Korea has been a frustrating negotiating partner in the past, and that its nuclear weapons program continues to move forward despite years of diplomacy, those are not persuasive arguments against further efforts to engage.

Perhaps the best argument for allowing South Korea some room for diplomatic maneuver is the fact that its population is the most at risk from North Korea. So long as it keeps Washington apprised of its discussions with the North, it should be encouraged to make the effort.

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