- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dec. 9

Chico Enterprise-Record: Violent Bay Area protests detract from important cause

Strange things happen in the Bay Area, and we’re close enough to remember most of the many protests and odd municipal laws in Berkeley and San Francisco that elicit bemused smiles from many people in these parts.

It’s easy to just shake your head, grin and dismiss it with one short sentence: “Yeah, that’s the Bay Area.” It usually comes with the addendum: “Glad we’re three hours away.”

But imagine how the rest of the country feels. Two weeks after nationwide protests over police killings of unarmed black men, first in Missouri and then in New York, the place where the protests linger the longest and loudest is thousands of miles away, on the other coast.

Don’t ask us why that’s the case, other than, “Yeah, that’s the Bay Area.” But the actions of some protesters and some police officers in the East Bay are certainly unflattering, and unfortunately detract from whatever message they’re trying to send.

Closing down freeways, train tracks and surface streets certainly won’t win the protesters any sympathy points in the eyes of other Bay Area residents, who have every right to wonder whether the protests are misplaced. What really is the point of shutting down Interstate 80? By the same token, looting a Radio Shack store and a Whole Foods market, then passing around stolen champagne to fellow protesters, makes most logical people wonder what that accomplishes.

The truth is, some of the protesters are just professional protesters. They hijacked the Occupy Wall Street cause and turned Occupy Oakland into a way of life for several months, damaging Oakland businesses on random nights when the protests would boil over. Before that, they did the same thing during the Iraq War, turning peaceful protests or marches into an excuse to damage buildings and vehicles.

It’s important to note that not all of the protesters act this way. Most don’t. In fact, one protester who tried to stop the looting of the Radio Shack store in Berkeley over the weekend got beaten with a hammer for his troubles. Peaceful protesters need to realize they’re being used as cover by a group of troublemakers who dilute their cause. They’d be wise to bow out now and return later. They shouldn’t allow the anarchists to claim they have numbers.

The protesters aren’t the only ones out of line. So are police in Berkeley, who while cracking down on protesters decided to crack heads of working journalists, some of whom held out their credentials as they were getting hit by officers with their batons. Of course, there’s video of it.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Chapter called for an investigation into “inappropriate use of force” on reporters and photographers.

“We are sure that you agree attacks on journalists are entirely unacceptable,” the letter said. “Reporters are on scene to report the news as it happens. They are not participants in the protests.”

The Berkeley police department has not apologized or even responded, which makes it seem the aggressive actions are condoned by police leadership. And maybe they are. As the Oakland Tribune reported: “While Oakland police in recent weeks were criticized for not doing enough to stop agitators moving freely within the large demonstrations from breaking windows and looting stores, Berkeley’s more muscular approach also failed to prevent property damage and appeared to galvanize the movement’s more radical fringe against the city.”

This is a situation where everybody involved - the riot-minded protesters and the overly aggressive police - can do better. As always, we’re glad the Bay Area is an arm’s length away.


Dec. 6

Eureka Times-Standard: Can we relax about ‘Happy holidays’?

It seems that, in recent years, the simple seasonal greeting of “Happy holidays” has become another excuse for posturing over our differences; sad, but not unsolvable.

To both sides in this spat - those insistent on pointing out just which holiday they celebrate with an “Oh, no, thank you very much,” and those overly eager to take offense at the assumption that they ought to be celebrating any holiday at all - the phrase can be grounds for a sneer, a pointed lecture or a strongly worded letter.

How Scrooge-like.

Whatever happened to taking words in the spirit in which they are given?

Whether you believe we are all living in 2014 AD or CE, Hebrew Year 5,775 or the Year of the Horse, we’re all, believe it or not, stuck on the same planet - for now, at least.

“Happy holidays” may not be specific, but whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza, Boxing Day, the winter solstice, Wookie Life Day or the coming of the Krampus, December is packed with as many causes for celebration as strangers you may pass on the street. There ought to be nothing objectionable about throwing a little unspecified holiday cheer into the wintery air. Just a general wish of good times and merry mood for everyone involved.

Now, we’re not arguing that you ought to say “Happy holidays” to the exclusion of all other seasonal greetings. It just not ought to be cause for a Sharks and Jets throwdown at the dinner table.

After all, “good will” is not just a place to buy remarkably affordable clothes. We could all use a little more good will in our lives, no?

So, if we could ease up on our daily dose of cable news outrage and take a moment to embrace our neighbors - in spirit - that would be great. No one loses. Everyone wins.


Dec. 9

Contra Costa Times: New law will finally require training teachers to report child abuse

The era of ignorance will soon end.

While state law requires school personnel to immediately notify police or child protective services when they know or suspect a student has been abused, it merely suggests school districts train their workers about the mandate.

Consequently, as this newspaper has documented over the past three years, school employees - from janitors and teachers to principals and district superintendents - were woefully uninformed about the law.

That should change under bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed this year. Starting Jan. 1, school districts must train workers annually about their legal obligations. The significant new law was authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank.

A second law, carried by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, requires teachers when they initially apply for their credentials, and when they renew every five years, to sign a statement acknowledging their reporting responsibilities.

We hope education of workers will end delays reporting and, in some cases, outright cover-ups of physical and sexual abuse like cases we’ve documented in Antioch, Brentwood, Lafayette, Moraga, Concord and San Jose schools.

Too often teachers informed supervisors rather than directly alerting police as the law requires. Too often school administrators decided to conduct their own inquiries rather than complying with the mandate to turn cases over to law enforcement officials trained to investigate.

In 2013, then-Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, introduced legislation requiring each school district to develop a policy for reporting suspected abuse, and to review it with employees annually. It was a start, but, as we said then, weak: District officials who had previously failed to follow the reporting law would have been responsible for developing the training.

The bill stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, chaired by Gatto, who feared the state cost to reimburse districts. We challenged him to come up with something better. And he did.

Under his new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, the state departments of Social Services and Education must develop a uniform online training program, and every school district must ensure all workers complete it within the first six weeks of each school year.

To be sure, the new law has some problems: First, school districts and workers face no penalties for failure to comply. Second, school districts can opt to provide their own training instead, even though their past attempts have often been inadequate. Third, because of ambiguities in the new law, districts that do provide their own training might be able to evade doing so annually.

Nevertheless, Gatto’s bill is a significant improvement. We hope he’ll fix the problems in it. We thank him for rising to our challenge.


Dec. 9

Torrance Daily Breeze: Our 1,200-year drought and bad water policies

People with professional expertise in California’s four-year drought - plus those just looking for something new to worry about - get it right about expecting too much from last week’s and this week’s storms.

Even though we got a good inch and a half, and much more in some places, and even though the storm bearing down on Southern California Thursday and Friday is said to hold the promise of “significant” rainfall, both the real experts and the professional worriers correctly note that it would be simply wrong to say our state’s severe drought is anything like over.

To do so would be like those global-warming deniers who dismiss the scientific evidence of climate change because it’s snowing in Minnesota.

It’s not that these December rains aren’t great. As Mark Gold, the associate director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, so nicely put it in his column at LA Observed, the first storm “brought a sense of renewal and a reminder that inexorable desiccation isn’t the only state of our Mediterranean climate.”

But lack of total desiccation does not a rain forest make. This month as well, a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows that “the current event is the most severe drought in the last 1,200 years, with single year (2014) and accumulated moisture deficits worse than any previous continuous span of dry years.”

So there goes the theory constantly spun out by Southern California armchair meteorologists who say that dry spells come and go and that this one is no worse than others. It is worse. And we get blase about it at our peril.

The study, much of it based on historical tree-ring data, does show that there have been three-year spells in the past with as little rain as we’ve had since 2011. What’s exacerbated this drought is, yes, global warming: There has never been a drought like this in over a millennium because there has never been so little rain combined with such high average temperatures, which heat and crack the ground. (No contradiction here with this week’s NOAA report, which just says it’s not necessarily warming that has caused less rain.)

In a better world, we would be expecting California’s lawmakers to be working together on long-term solutions to what is clearly a long-term problem. Disappearing water in California is not just about flooding Bay Delta fields for rice or piping water into more southern Central Valley almond groves. It’s not just about using drought-tolerant landscaping or not letting the tap run while brushing our teeth.

Even if too many of us hold onto old water ways, the drought is part of the California conversation these days. That’s one reason quick, one-sided supposed fixes such as HR 5781, the “California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014,” passed on a 229-182 vote in the House Tuesday, are such bad public policy. Rather than the “bipartisan” plan its backers tout it as, the bill focuses on diverting more water to those Central Valley farmers, and was written with no input from Southern California members of Congress or fisheries and wildlife experts.

Bad short-term water diversion is no fix for a 1,200-year problem. President Obama, as he has promised to do, should veto it so the California drought doesn’t cause even more harm.


Dec. 4

The Bakersfield Californian: Lerdo decision had to be made

Kern County supervisors are right to be uneasy about spending the money to upgrade the Lerdo jail, but it’s clear the work needs to be done.

Under the fog of potential lawsuits from inmates with disabilities or special needs, supervisors voted to spend $100.5 million to build an 822-bed addition to the aging county facility, which hasn’t been updated since the 1980s.

No one was happy about the situation, especially with the additional $27 million annual expense of running the new addition. However, it’s clear that Kern County needs this facility for many reasons. Most importantly, it wards off the threat of potential lawsuits that the county could face if the work isn’t done. Of course, it also ensures that a greater number of the people who should not be wandering the streets are behind bars, at least for a while.

As far as essential services, an improved Lerdo jail facility should be at the top of the list for the county supervisors. Frugality is nice, but reality is a much different beast to tame. The reality is that the county has grown significantly, faces a litigious faction from those looking to protect the rights of the incarcerated, and must deal with federal courts that are willing to force the hand of states and local municipalities.

While the concerns about the operating costs are understandable, the supervisors should also have faith in Sheriff Donny Youngblood’s ability to manage the expenses. We feel that Youngblood will be a good steward of those funds.


Dec. 7

Imperial Valley Press: What will this holiday season bring for the economy?

Buying practices of American shoppers have begun to really shift in recent years, as more and more of us forego long lines, big crowds and sometimes unbearable traffic for the relative ease and complete comfort of shopping online.

The problem with that is it affects local businesses, both locally owned and national retailers with local locations.

The trickle-down is a slower holiday hiring season for many unemployed and comparatively fewer sales tax dollars for local coffers.

It’s often difficult to gauge the true local effect when dealing with national economic forecasts, simply because Mexicali skews the data on the local level. But it’s clear throughout the country and to some extent here, that things aren’t as “crazy” as we’re used to.

Take the lengthy Thanksgiving Day weekend as a snapshot of the changing buying trends. The National Retail Federation reported an 11 percent drop in sales across the country over the Black Friday weekend, which is sharply contrasted by an 8.5 percent rise over last year on Cyber Monday numbers.

While buyers from both sides of the border staked out the big deals earlier than ever on Thanksgiving Day, Friday in the Imperial Valley’s commercial areas seemed slower and the weekend after, more so.

Even though there is never any shortage of some level of holiday shoppers jockeying for position in the malls, we’re waiting for the last-minute crush that will give our area a surge in revenue. Buyers from Mexicali often fill the parking lots of the Calexico and El Centro malls no matter what, but we’ll have to see to what effect after the holidays have come and gone.

Online shopping tends to favor the big-box retailers, at the risk of cannibalizing their local outlets. The click of a mouse comes with deals too good, shipping too fast and hassles too few to pass up.

What that has the potential to do is add a little bump to locally owned and run shops and stores, where buyers can find the unique, the handcrafted or even just the chance to help out a local merchant to make their holidays a little brighter. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, we’d like to see more of it. Shopping local keeps the community’s retail economy diverse.

We mention all of these scenarios because the retail numbers seem at odds with the fact that just in October consumer confidence - Americans’ willingness to spend their money because of their faith in the economy - was at a seven-year high.

Who knows?

Maybe consumers are buying, but being smarter about it, unwilling to lay it all out with savings and credit that many of us spend the rest of the year trying to pay for.

Maybe shoppers are getting savvier with their dollars, biding their time and reveling in the spirit of the holidays rather than the excess of the season.

Regardless, it will be interesting when the national data comes pouring in in January to see if the Black Friday and early December hiccups were an anomaly to be replaced by a mad-dash to the stores at the last minute.

Either way, we’ll be enjoying our holidays, and we hope you will, too.

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