Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Roundtable: Trump's Tweets, Housing Crisis, Trouble For Snopes

Roundtable: Trump's Tweets, Housing Crisis, Trouble For Snopes
Roundtable: Trump's Tweets, Housing Crisis, Trouble For Snopes
Transgender Troops, Housing Crisis, Snopes TroublesPANELChris Jennewein, CEO & editor, Times of San Dan McSwain, business columnist, The San Diego Union-Tribune David Wagner, science and tech reporter, KPBS News

AS: Donald Trump finds himself in the middle of a transgender tweetstorm. What is in the way of building housing in San Diego? What is not away? A website that debunks fake news finds itself in real trouble. KPBS Roundtable starts now. AS: Welcome to our discussion of the top stories. Joining me at the KPBS Roundtable are Chris Jennewein, Welcome. AS: Dan McSwain, hello. DM: Thank you for having me. AS: David Wagner. Welcome. DW: Good to be here. AS: It has been quite a week in Washington. The last-ditch effort to repeal and Obamacare failed. That is not the only people amazed and concerned. President Trump dropped a bombshell tweeting that transgender people were banned from serving in the military. The massive policy ship surprised the Pentagon and spawned a backlash. Chris, the question of whether transgender people so should serve openly in the military, and candidate Trump said he did not want any part of the issue. What change? CJ: First of all, what President Obama did was you could openly serve in the military. That was in the middle of 2016. This month, the military was on track to start accepting openly transgender recruits. The defense secretary put it on hold. That was not an issue. What it appears that happened was President Trump was facing backlash from his right wing conservative base over his attacks earlier this week. That was by twitter on Jeff Sessions. Banning transgender people from serving in the military was seen by many to quickly rebuild credibility with the right-wing base. AS: Do you think it was successful? CJ: It spawned an enormous backlash from the Pentagon to supporters throughout the country. A good example was the defense secretary, the New York Times said he had a day’s notice. He was on vacation and according to the times, he was appalled by the decision. The joints chief of staff said we will not do anything until we get a detailed directive on the White House. AS: Does that mean that a showdown over this issue is in store internally? CJ: I think it is. And also through Congress. In San Diego, Scott Peters who represents central San Diego filed an amendment for the authorization bill that would overturn the band. A tweet is a difficult way to make policy. There are big questions. If you are openly serving now as a transgender, do you get discharge? Is it honorable or dishonorable? The military does not like that uncertainty. AS: On the very day that President Trump announced the policy change via Twitter, the White House could not answer basic questions on how it will be and implemented. As you mentioned, Scott Peters moved very quickly to propose an amendment. That amendment says government may not use funds in appropriations bill to implement, enforce or observe any directive from the president of the United States that bars or restricts the ability of transgender persons to serve in the Armed Forces. There is that. Do you think this will go anywhere? CJ: I think there is a good chance. 20 attorney generals have come out against this. San Diego is a great indication of what might happen. We are a military town. Almost everyone with one exception was appalled by this. We had statements from many political leaders. One exception was Duncan Hunter who said that he thought it was right on and that it would help restore a warrior culture. His fellow Marine, Nathan who is running for County supervisor attacked this. You know, it is a small problem in some ways. It's not a problem, but there are 7000 openly transgender people out of 1.3 million actively serving. That is a tiny fraction of a fraction of a percent. DW: Donald Trump, if you read the tweets, he makes it sound like there are huge costs associated with these few thousand people. AS: The military spends more on Viagra than it would spend on healthcare for transgender people. I understand it ranges from 2.4 million to 8.4 million per year. This is a budget on healthcare spending. CJ: It is a tiny percentage. There were reports about how much they spend on Viagra. But to put that in perspective, it came from a study in 2016. A tomahawk missile caused 1.5 million. We're talking a tomahawk missile. In the worst-case situation, to have 7000 Americans or more who serve in the military and help defend this country. AS: Scott Peters is trying to prevent this from happening. We have a clip from here. SP: I do not know anything were backward then telling men and women who want to serve that they cannot serve because of gender identity in a military. It does not make sense. When we heard about President Trump and his tweets this morning, which is a battle we have been fighting for years, we decided to file an amendment to the spending bill, and it says, you cannot spend money enforcing the ban. AS: Let's contrast that with what Congressman Hunter said. The president's decision was the absolute right decision. National security should trump social experimentation always. It is time to restore the warrior culture and to allow the military to get back to business. That is not playing well. What is also not playing well is the announcement of a major policy shift on transgender people via Twitter. Is that okay? CJ: Twitter, even if you do it across and you do three tweets, that is not a lot of information. Military policies are complex. They go on for pages. You cannot just say we will do. Roosevelt and World War II said you could not do it in a twitter statement saying we will launch the invasion of Normandy. It is a more complex when you deal with the military and people's careers. You know, there was no respect in this for the people who are transgender who have been serving in the military. There is a retired Navy seal who is quoted as saying, let's meet face to face and tell me I am not worthy. What the president was doing was saying, you are unworthy if you are transgender without any further discussion. AS: Dan, what do you hear people say? DM: This analysis and blowback highlights the context. The civil rights struggle of LGBTQ, that is the great struggle of our time. We should not forget how recent this is. It moved at lightning speed. Barack Obama was against gay marriage through two elections. As you pointed out, this just kicked in and 2016. This is all very fresh and new. For better or for worse, the military has been an instrument of social justice and social policy. Harry Truman integrated the Army in the 1950s. That is with African-Americans. You know, this is a misstep from President Trump. AS: I am wondering, how do you turn the clock back? The military has been an instrument of social change and this was a huge step and it happened after a great deal of study and discussion. How do you turn it back? DW: I am not sure you can. That is what we see. You will have a lot of pushback. If you do not approach this carefully, you will get a lot of pushback. I also wonder, you know, this focuses on transgender people but I wonder, we do have an all-volunteer army what other people are thinking about and what do they think when you have a president who was so rash in throwing off these bombs. We have undocumented people serving in military. If you are thinking about that right now, does this make you less likely to do that? Knowing that you serve a president that is making these decisions so rashly? CJ: That is an important point. Tomorrow morning, there is a Navy destroyer that is named for a man who was an undocumented immigrant. He protected Marines from a grenade. Those are the people that the military wants and to create a cloud over one group means there might be a cloud over another group. Who should not be patriotic enough to want to defend the country? DM: It is the commander in chief said he wants to rebuild the military. He has to improve recruitment and improve equipment. This moves in the other direction. AS: We will close it there but we will keep an eye on this over the next coming weeks and months. AS: We know it is tough to buy or rent a house in San Diego, if you are middle or working-class. How tough is it? The median price of a home hit $515,000 in March, the highest point in 10 years. The situation is so dire that politicians seem to be working overtime to find ways around it. Here is Kevin Faulkner announcing a new program. Mayor: We want our kids to be able to start their own families. We want our parents to watch the grandkids grow up. We want seniors to retire here in San Diego with dignity. People who love San Diego and want to live in San Diego should not be priced out of San Diego. AS: They are looking into how we got into this situation. Dan, I have to ask you. You say there is a housing crisis which is a family affair. What do you mean? DM: I have been writing about the housing shortage that 2002. As I get older, I realize that my step kids cannot afford to live in my community. It is a family issue. People complain, I have to drive to visit my kids in Las Vegas or Phoenix because that is the only place they can afford to live. Maybe Marietta if I am lucky. That was a way to highlight this issue. It keeps getting worse. AS: You said 14 thousand people leave the city each year, right? DM: Yes. One of the myths about San Diego housing crisis is that it is San Diego. It is beautiful and perfect. Everyone wants to live here. They are flooding across the border. As a demographic fact, the domestic migration it is migration, not immigration. More people leave than we have arriving. AS: So, the crisis, it is the result of a combination of our choices. What are the choices that have limited housing in the region? DM: Land-use is controlled by local government. What they do is popular. It is a point of fact. The people that vote in local elections are property owners. They tend to favor anti-growth policies. You can be offered growth in the abstract but when they want to put condo units down the street from your single-family home, people are not shy about telling representatives to stop that. We have a series of regulations that restrict that kind of development. On top of that, we have a laundry list of fees. Between fees and restrictions, we have created a politically popular government created shortage. AS: Let's talk about that. What are they? DM: Everything from park fees to traffic mitigation and that money does not actually go to roads or traffic mitigation, but other things. There are affordable housing requirements which requires a home that is built for the market to also subsidize a below market home somewhere else and that money gets lost inside local government. There are fees all over the place. On average, a new condominium or home in San Diego, at the low-end of the market which is the $300,000 to $450,000 range. That has fees. AS: I have two questions. If you do not charge fees, I mean, what will cities do to generate revenue? DM: The same way they generate revenue in other ways. We do not tax other industries, hotdog cart sales where we have a sales tax which is broad-based and we are property tax. Those are broadly based. Housing, unlike any other activity other than tobacco and alcohol are targeted with special taxes in this restricts housing and increases the market price. AS: If those fees were to diminish maybe not go away entirely, is the presumption that developers will then lower the price of the cost of the condo or the home? DM: Not as long as there is a zoning restriction. We have a classic market failure. Generally, the price of something is rising rapidly, new suppliers rush into compete. Apple had the smart phone market all by itself and everyone came in. In San Diego’s housing market, the higher the price gets, the fewer suppliers we have. We have less construction every year. The number of building permits that were in the first half the year approaches a financial crisis era record low. It is not because we have too much demand or too many people coming. It is not because builders do not want to make money because they do all over the world. The problem is because we have restricted growth. We added fees. It is a double whammy. CJ: Is there an escape valve elsewhere in the county? At all? DM: Through the 1980s and 1990s, most of the growth in the county was in North County such as Carlsbad and San Marcus and Oceanside to a lesser extent. That is where the growth was. That kept the pressure down a little bit. Then, starting in the mid-1990s, we exported our low-cost housing. I spoke to a developer who had people driving to jobs in San Diego from the Arizona border and that is how far they went. We have pushed. Do not forget about Tijuana. We have tens of thousands of people living in Tijuana. That is bad for the environment. It increases congestion. It does nothing to mitigate or to contain the problem of runaway growth in rent and home prices. AS: It seems like the city is trying to do something. Mayor Faulkner listed goals that his group is trying to tackle. Here he is. Mayor: To spur the construction of low income and middle-class housing through incentives, to streamline the development standards and speed up the project review process, to identify funding for affordable housing and encourage growth in transit friendly areas which also supports the goals of our landmark climate action plan -- AS: A good start? DM: It is a fantastic start. I cannot say enough about what the mayor and the city Council was doing. However, it is a first step. These are important. Just a couple of years ago, the city Council was moving in the opposite direction, trying to establish a linkage be so commercial development would be taxed to support affordable housing, but they have a long way to go. Nobody has declared affordable housing or homeless housing crisis to this day in the region. Even the affordable housing units that the mayor is making easier to build, they have to pay fees also. You have a project that is taxed $30,000 per unit back to the city. It is a device that makes low-cost subsidized housing catastrophically expensive. AS: We have to close it there. thank you. AS: Before fake news was fake news, there was Snopes. It exists to debunk urban legends and myths. Now they get 18 million visitors per month. They find itself in real trouble, and in danger of disappearing. Start by telling us. What exactly Snopes does. What do they debunk? DW: If you go to They do fact checking on political stories. It is stories like today, I saw one, did Anthony Scaramucci post a sexually explicit tweet in 2009? Snopes looked into that and found it was false. They will debunk the misinformation that you might see about politics on Twitter or Facebook. It is a mix. They debunk urban legends, rumors. They are an important fact checking website. You can Google something that you heard that does not sound right to you. Nine times out of 10, there is a Snopes link . AS: Who is suing them and why? DW: Snopes find itself in an ownership battle. There are two parties that both claim ownership over Snopes. On one hand, we have David Nicholson who cofounded the company back in the mid-1990s. They have been around for a long time. He cofounded it with his then wife, Barbara Nicholson. They set up a parent company called part of ink. It is complicated. They were divorced. Barbara sold her half of that parent company to a San Diego-based media company called Proper Media. They got involved to improve advertising and things like that. Now, they have 50%. They are directors and they claim to have 50% ownership over the parent company. What is alleged here by proper media is that David Nicholson has mismanaged Snopes and that he has conspired with one of their own directors to seize full control over the company been to have greater than 50% ownership stake? That is the meat of allegations. AS: This lawsuit is financially draining Snopes, a cofounder starts a crowd funding campaign. What happened? DW: This happened on Monday. He put out a call to raise half of $1 million to keep the site running. What he says is the allegations against him have it backwards. Proper Media is the one trying to seize control and they are doing that by withholding advertising revenue that Snopes needs to keep running. He put this call for GoFundMe on Monday. By Tuesday, he had exceeded it. There was an outpouring of support from people online who clearly value what Snopes does. AS: What does that say about Snopes popularity? Can that level of fundraising be sustained? DW: David Nicholson said this money will help him keep the site going for several months as they figure out the legal situation. What is interesting about this is, the name of the fund was save Snopes. I suspect people who gave $10 were not doing it because they wanted to pick a dog in this ownership battle. I think they did it, especially after the 2016 election, people see so much misinformation and fake news on the Internet. They really want a site like Snopes back checking the stuff. They tell them what is true and what is not. AS: The website lawyers, a local law firm says they have gotten proper media to release $100,000. Tell me about that. DW: They got the court to give them $100,000, but of course the fight is for all of the advertising revenue. Whoever ends up owning Snopes, they will run the site as they have for the last 20 years based on the advertising revenue. That is the big fight here. CJ: If Proper Media got control, is there any indication there would be change? DW: It is so hard to say. David Nicholson is the guy who has been running it for decades. Proper Media is more interested in advertising technology. They work with some other website like You know, they have experience running websites. Their partnership over Snopes does not date back as far as Dave Nicholson. AS: We have to leave that there. that wraps up another week of stories at KPBS Roundtable. I would like to thank our guest, Chris Jennewein, Dan McSwain, and David Wagner. AS: All of the stories we discussed are available on our website, This program is available on the KPBS Roundtable podcast. I’m Amita Sharma. Thank you for joining us.


The Story

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump surprised many in his administration, Congress and even the military by tweeting that the U.S. government would no longer allow transgender personnel to serve in any capacity in the military.


James Matthis, Trump's secretary of defense, was away and apparently unaware the change was coming.

Since 2016, U.S. policy has been that transgender troops already in the military could serve openly.

Trump indicated no timetable for implementation or gave any idea of what now happens to transgender troops already serving.

Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday there would be no modifications to the current policy, and all troops were to be treated with respect.

And there was pushback from Congress, even from conservative members like Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, filed an amendment to the defense appropriations bill which disallowed any funds in the bill for implementation or enforcement of the president’s directive. Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr., R-San Diego, on the other hand, said the move would restore the military’s “warrior culture.”


The Conversation

-Why the change now?

-What will happen to transgender troops already serving?

RELATED: Trump Says Transgender People Can’t Serve In Military

RELATED: Pentagon takes no steps to enforce Trump's transgender ban

RELATED: Rep. Scott Peters Attempts To Block Trump From Barring Transgender People From Military


The Story

In San Diego, as in much of the rest of the state, rising housing prices and scarcity have become a crisis.

In a market-based society, this situation should cause a mad construction boom. Instead, construction is falling. Why?

Among the reasons: voters vote to limit growth and downsize projects.

We elect politicians who tax developments to pay for schools, parks, transit, and local government itself.

We sue when we don’t want a development in our backyard.

And then there’s CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, which applies to all private development.

In a competitive market, housing prices should be close to construction costs. Here they are generally double. Our housing market attracts large numbers of investors, who pay cash.

San Diego Mayor Faulconer has announced “Housing SD,” several proposals to speed up the construction of low-income and middle-class housing. The City Council has already approved three of these.

The Conversation

-Is Housing SD a good first sep or weak tea?

-What can or will the state be able to do to ease the crunch on housing?

RELATED: San Diego's housing crisis, a family problem

RELATED: San Diego Unveils Affordable Housing Plan

RELATED: City housing changes not enough, say developers and planners


The Story

Snopes, a nationally known fact-checking website based in San Diego, finds itself in a bind.

Snopes, which has been around for 20 years, was one of the first media organizations to debunk fake news before fake news was a thing. It currently helps Facebook do the same thing.

But Snopes is in a legal dispute with its website developer, Proper Media, over control of the site, accusing it of withholding all its advertising revenue.

Proper Media, in turn, has accused Snopes of gross mismanagement.

Snopes raised more than $600,000 in one day through a GoFundMe account, hoping to stay in business at least until its first court hearing next Friday.

The Conversation

-How important is Snopes in the current media landscape?

-Is the dispute a clash of egos, or are there real issues?

RELATED: Who owns Dispute puts future of fact-checking site in question

RELATED: Fact-Checking Website Snopes Gets Outpouring Of Financial Support Amidst Lawsuit