- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

July 9

The Long Beach Press-Telegram on meeting water conservation goals:

Even the ordinarily wayward child who finally aces a test deserves an “atta girl” or an “atta boy,” right?

Those are the words of praise for Californians that Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Board, used last week in an interview with Staff Writer Steve Scauzillo after May water-use statistics showed that we saved 29 percent over the same period in 2013.

Then, of course, cautious about overpraising or appearing to declare victory over the drought or anything of that optimistic sort, Marcus came back with an admonition: “We do need to keep reminding people to keep it up in the summer months.”

Thanks, Mom. We’ll try to keep that tap turned off. And then we won’t forget to take out the trash.

Skeptics and tut-tutters actually have a good reason to doubt that California water-wasters can stay on the straight and narrow for long. In February, right on the heels of Gov. Jerry Brown declaring a state of emergency after four straight years of drought, Southern Californians actually increased our water use by 2.3 percent over 2013 rather than heading in the direction of conservation. That was a poor showing indeed right at what should have been a high point of awareness of the direness of the situation. But we instead turned the taps to the right instead of to the left, bad children once again, as if out of spite.

Now, one month of being extra-good does not a reformed delinquent make. But we’d like to celebrate for just a day here the good work of May. Because, remember, the water-conservation goal Californians have been asked to hit is 25 percent, and overall, we exceeded that standard by a healthy 4 percentage points. Not only not bad - pretty darn good, actually.

So let’s sing some of those praises: Arcadia, 27 percent. Azusa, the same good number. Burbank, 23 percent. Covina, 25 percent. Chino, 26 percent.

La Verne, 33 percent. Long Beach, 20 percent. Manhattan Beach, 21 percent. Pasadena, 24 percent. Redlands, 37 percent. Simi Valley, 36 percent. Torrance, 26 percent. Walnut Valley, 29 percent. Whittier, 34 percent.

And check out the hard work of Good Child No. 1, the ordinarily lush, green-lawned San Gabriel Valley suburb of Glendora, which came in at a whopping conservation rate of 48 percent. The city has cut watering at parks and medians. In addition to turf-removal rebates, the city is spending $4 million on smart meters for residents who can keep track of outdoor watering and leaks on their computers and smartphones, its city manager says.

Sure, there were some performances that barely rate a passing grade. Los Angeles, the biggest city in the state, saved 18 percent, well below the governor’s target. From San Pedro to Woodland Hills, could we make a little extra effort, Angelenos? We know the abuses by the brass - which too often means everyone - at the Department of Water and Power can make it hard to play nice. But this isn’t about arrogant local administrators. It’s about a healthy future for our state.

As the pho chef in Santa Cruz who switched to a pressure cooker for her Vietnamese noodle soup to save half her usual water says, “We’re all trying to do what we can. It’s all about consciousness.”

Those buckets in the shower aren’t really so awkward when you think of how your rose bushes will appreciate a good soaking, it turns out. Nice work, Californians. Here’s to hitting 30 percent for July.

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July 10

The Pasadena Star-News on California’s changing demographics:

Even if this were the post-racial society we sometimes like to imagine it is in our better moments, demography matters.

So the news from the Census Bureau that for the first time Latinos are now the largest group in California, inching past whites in terms of numbers, isn’t just a meaningless statistic. It’s a fact that matters to all of us. It matters culturally and economically, and thus could hardly matter more.

Race, and to some degree even ethnicity, is the wrong term, of course, for the group of people we now call Latino. But it’s a better word than the old one, Hispanic, which merely implies descent from Spain. A tourist from Madrid visiting Hollywood may be Hispanic but is not Latino, which means, for our purposes at least, a person with family ties to Latin America - anywhere from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, in the lands once colonized by Spain.

There are blond and blue-eyed Latinos, black Latinos, and what many Californians of Latin American descent would recognize as the mainstream of the term, mestizos - people of both European and native American ancestry.

Latinos are the people the Census Bureau says just became a plurality in California - not a majority, but the largest group, at 15 million of the 38 million Californians as compared with 14.9 million “non-Hispanic” whites. A majority is predicted by mid-century.

California isn’t the first state to have a non-white group in the plurality - New Mexico has more Latinos than whites, and Hawaii has a plurality of Asian Americans.

But California is a kind of nation-state of our own, the eighth-largest economy in the world. And, yes, the Bear Republic was previously part of the Spanish empire and then of Mexico itself. So in that sense this statistical news is a back-to-the-future moment.

As we consider what the demographic news means for California, the best way to understand it is to see that this is a number that simply plays to our strengths. California, to the west of what the rest of our country historically knew as the West, has always been a different American place. We have always been more diverse in our cultural backgrounds than a New England or an Old South.

The country as a whole is now the world’s second-largest Spanish-speaking nation after Mexico, and it now has 11.6 million fully bilingual Spanish and English speakers - more than Colombia or Spain. And our Latino population is at the heart of that. Great timing, isn’t it, to see Latino economic power trumping the inane ravings of that reality-TV host as companies race to disassociate?

Let’s use our state’s economic might and its multi-cultural backbone to become even more Californio - to use the 19th-century term - than ever. Very American, but a people with a style all our own. Ready to lead the world in trade with Latin America, with whom many of us share a common language. Ready, in fact, to fulfill the promise that those Californios of the Bear Republic years saw when briefly we were a country of our own.

Those Latinos who are now a plurality have a median age of 29, versus age 45 for the white population. Those young people - from urbanites in L.A. to farmers in the Central Valley - are the future of California. Together, investing in education and infrastructure, we can make that future a bright one.

___

July 11

The Sacramento Bee on reproductive health care and contraception:

For 45 years, the federal government has subsidized contraception for poor and uninsured women, quietly preventing millions of abortions and unintended pregnancies.

Once, Republicans saw that as a good thing. No longer.

In a petty and fiscally stupid gambit aimed at undermining one of the more effective family planning ideas in a generation, the GOP-controlled Congress has gone gunning for Title X - a $286 million grant program that has saved taxpayers billions of dollars.

House Republicans want to kill it entirely; Senate Republicans will settle for maiming. Either way, it’s a very big deal for California, where Title X money underwrites cheap or free birth control, family planning advice, sexually transmitted disease screenings and other health services (not abortions) for more than a million patients annually.

More than a quarter of those served nationally by Title X live in California. All are low income. Many are uninsured.

Some are undocumented, but some are just Californians who have fallen through the cracks for one reason or another - street people, migrant workers, people between health plans, teenagers who are sexually active and afraid their parents will find out if they seek birth control from their family doctor.

Whatever the reason, Title X funding has become a vital part of the health care safety net in this state, even after the Affordable Care Act. The California Family Health Council, which administers the program here, says it averts about 275,000 unintended pregnancies a year.

Researchers at the Guttmacher Institute have found that every dollar that goes into the program saves taxpayers more than $7 in other costs such as Medi-Cal and welfare. And it’s hard to imagine contraception being remotely controversial to anyone in 2015.

A 2012 Gallup Poll on the issue found that birth control was approved of by 90 percent of Democrats, 89 percent of independents and 87 percent of Republicans.

Unfortunately, conservatives looking to pick a fight with President Barack Obama through the appropriations process have fixated on Title X as a target because one of its larger grant recipients is Planned Parenthood, which also performs abortions.

It’s a straw man. For one thing, the vast majority of women who visit Planned Parenthood clinics go for birth control, not pregnancy termination. But even if that weren’t the case, Title X money can’t be used for abortions.

And in California, Planned Parenthood clinics represent only a fraction of the agencies that provide family planning services with Title X money. Most grant recipients here are community clinics, county health services departments, teen clinics at urban high schools, rural health care operations.

Those CommuniCare clinics in Yolo County? They get Title X money. Women’s Health Specialists in Sacramento, Butte, Shasta and Sonoma counties? They get Title X money.

Those clinics run by the Placer County Health and Human Services Department, the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, the Family HealthCare Network in Tulare County? Ditto.

If the program is eliminated or slashed, as Congress intends, the ax will fall not on Obama, as conservatives feverishly imagine, but on people most in need of access to reproductive health care and contraception. And on the rural constituents of GOP congressmen including U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Why any member of the California delegation would back this pound-foolish move is beyond comprehension. When Title X was passed in 1970, it had broad bipartisan support and was signed by Republican President Richard Nixon.

But that was back when the Grand Old Party stood for something besides sticking it to Democrats and the poor.

___

July 12

The San Francisco Chronicle on the potential effects of fracking:

A long-anticipated scientific report about hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, explains just how much we don’t know about the potential effects of chemicals used in the controversial oil extraction technique. The Legislature and California’s regulatory agencies need to heed the report’s warnings and insist on more data from oil companies about their activities.

“The environmental characteristics of many chemicals remain unknown,” write the authors of the report, which was conducted by the California Council on Science and Technology and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“We lack information to determine if these chemicals would present a threat to human health or the environment if released to groundwater or other environmental media.”

The report concludes that we don’t know the risks and hazards associated with some two-thirds of the additives used in fracking, and the toxicity of more than half of the chemicals used in it.

That’s completely unacceptable, which is why the report’s authors suggest limiting the use of chemicals with “unknown environmental profiles.”

Considering the fact that there’s the potential for contamination (of both food and water sources) linked to fracking, the suggestion isn’t much of a stretch.

The report also suggests the need for a stronger regulatory response to current practices. Even the researchers, for example, were surprised to learn that recycled wastewater from the oil fields is being used on crops.

State Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, has authored a bill, SB248, that requires a new inspections and data recording process for well operations. Last week, Pavley said she intends to amend her bill to include some of the report’s recommendations.

“The scientists are emphatic that state regulators must protect underground sources of drinkable water from being contaminated by fracking in shallow wells and other potentially unsafe practices,” Pavley said in a statement. We agree with that conclusion, and we urge the Legislature to take action to protect consumers and the environment.

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July 13

The Contra Costa Times on prescribing medication for foster children:

A package of four bills headed through the California Legislature this summer will help stem the tide of powerful psychotropic medication prescribed for as many as one in four foster children - the state’s most vulnerable kids.

The legislation may not be enough. But it’s a good start, even though it steers clear of imposing requirements directly on doctors who prescribe the drugs to foster kids. The bills are worthy and they should become law.

“Drugging our Kids,” a Bay Area News Group investigative series by reporter Karen de Sá, brought this problem to lawmakers’ attention.

De Sá found a pervasive pattern of prescribing psychotropic medication to children with emotional or behavioral problems, often without trying less invasive remedies first and apparently without understanding the kids’ medical history, including what other drugs they’re taking.

Doctors also prescribe “off label,” meaning in amounts far greater than recommended doses or to children younger than recommended in FDA approvals.

State Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, Bill Monning, D-Carmel and Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, have stepped up admirably to improve monitoring and accountability when foster children are placed on medication.

The legislation - Senate Bills 238, 253, 319 and 484 - funds and empowers juvenile courts and social service agencies to better monitor kids’ health and to push back when prescribed medication seems excessive or inappropriate for them.

Yes, doctors should be regulated directly. They’re the ones prescribing powerful drugs - and, de Sá found, taking gifts and payments from drugmakers in greater amounts than the average physician typically accepts.

But the medical lobby is powerful. Very powerful.

Child advocates hit massive resistance when they tried to set rules for physicians. Doctors say judges, nurses and social workers lack the expertise to second guess them - but there’s clearly a systemic problem of over-drugging, and the docs are not using their expertise to police themselves. Nor are they using good judgment in accepting gifts from drug companies. If they wanted to offer an alternative that accomplished those goals, I am sure we would be willing to listen.

We would like to do more, but given the difficulty in bucking the medical establishment, the package of pending bills makes sense.

“Right now it’s just a river of meds, and we’re building a dam,” Anna Johnson, policy analyst for the National Center for Youth Law, told de Sá.

It will be enough to get doctors’ attention. And if it’s not, advocates and lawmakers will need to try again.

We’ll be watching.

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