- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

March 5

Marysville Appeal-Democrat: Four months still too long for vets to wait

We want our veterans taken care of.

And we don’t want to add to their burdens by saddling them with unneeded bureaucracy or governmental breakdown as they seek out disability aid. If a veteran suffered some hurt during service to our country, they deserve assistance and judgment on their claims in a timely manner.

As reported by David Bitton, in the Tuesday edition of the Appeal-Democrat, more than 1,100 disability claims from Yuba-Sutter veterans are awaiting responses from the U.S. Department of Veterans Services. We’d like it if the responses were made with greater alacrity.

More than 660,000 claims are pending, nationwide. Veterans are waiting for disability ratings . or the news that their claims are rejected so they can plan their next moves. As Bitton reported, “It is a wait often counted in years, rather than days or months.”

Marvin King, with the Yuba-Sutter Veterans Services Office, said that for initial claims it is taking about a year for a decision. If that first claim is rejected, the appeals process can take as long as nine years, he said.

That’s a terrible amount of time in a person’s life. If you were a young veteran who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, would you want to have things hanging in the balance for so long? You have life decisions to make at that age. And if you are an older veteran, of Vietnam, for instance, would you want to wait that long during the precious years of retirement?

It’s a big system with layers of government and serving hundreds of thousands of former military personnel. We can understand that there would be the need to take claims and handle them in a discerning manner. But we should be able to make judgments quickly - certainly sooner than a year for an initial claim; certainly sooner than most of a decade for appeals.

It looks as though it’s just as likely that that the problems in the Department of Veterans Services are derived from them being overwhelmed. In fact, in the story, as reported by Bitton, the VA processed more than a million claims in fiscal years 2010 through 2012. And they’re hoping a new automated system, will help them eliminate the backlog - anything taking more than 125 days to process.

That’s still four months for a veteran to find out if a claim is to be accepted or denied and then, if necessary, start an appeals process. That’s still too long; but better than now.


March 4

Marin Independent Journal: Marin’s electric car plug-in stations need to keep pace with demand

A growing number of Marin households are taking their green ethic on the road.

During 2013, between February and September, the number of electric vehicles registered in Marin rose from about 400 to 672.

That’s an impressive trend, whether it’s motivated by driving green or avoiding spending $50 for a tank of gas.

Public acceptance of plug-in cars is rising. Ward’s Automotive, a leading source of information on the auto industry, reported that sales of plug-in hybrids and electric cars rose 241 percent between 2012 and 2013.

Marin has a lot further to go in providing convenient plug-in stations around the county. Many were installed over the past year, but Marin needs more.

Today, there are only 73 stations - and some are sometimes rendered useless when other motorists use them to park their gas-powered vehicles.

But more electric cars and greater public awareness about the stations should help resolve those conflicts.

And more businesses will conclude that having readily available stations is a good way to attract shoppers.

A 2011 report by the Transportation Authority of Marin outlined plans for a five-year initiative to install 176 charging stations at 72 locations across the county.

In January 2011, while marking the opening of three charging stations at three county facilities, Supervisor Steve Kinsey said, “This important step is part of Marin County’s contribution to a region-wide effort to become a national leader in EV deployment.”

TAM and the Marin Energy Authority should make growing the number of stations in Marin a planning priority.

MEA not only should focus on creating opportunities for stations, but also having them powered by its renewable power.

Growing demand for plug-in cars also requires making sure power stations’ availability and locations are easy for motorists to find.

The convenience of charging stations, along with the increasing distance plug-ins can go between charges, also will create a stronger demand.

Longtime electric car advocate, Dale Miller of San Rafael, has taken driving green to a higher level, installing solar panels on his home to charge his Tesla.

Electric cars help reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil, but the vehicles do consume electrical power, often generated by nonrenewable sources.

The cars may not spew greenhouse gas from their tailpipes, but the electricity powering them isn’t always green.

Miller is a good example of the potential win/win, with solar panels powering his plug-in for his car at home. He estimates the solar panels cut his per-mile cost in half, to 2 cents per mile.

Certainly, plug-in cars still represent a small slice of Marin’s automotive population. But that share is growing and so is the need for charging stations.


March 4

Merced Sun-Star: State should not wait for Congress to protect kids’ privacy

As kids step into the Internet, adults need to provide basic protection.

In that spirit, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg introduced Senate Bill 1177, which seeks to protect the privacy of children using educational software and to prevent companies from tailoring ads for them.

Congress should set a national standard prohibiting websites from tracking kids’ Internet movements, and using that information to market to them. Bills are pending in the House and Senate. But California should not wait for the feds to act.

A recent New York Times story noted that educational software intended for minors was a $7.97 billion business in 2011-12. It is sure to grow, as teachers find new ways to use online services and applications to help teach, and to tailor lessons for individual children.

Last year, Steinberg won approval for a broader measure prohibiting Internet markets from knowingly targeting minors, or allowing others to compile and use personal information about minors.

Starting in 2015, sites must provide an erase button so minors can remove their posts.

Steinberg carried that bill after reports that kids were targeted with ads for alcohol, tobacco and diet products, apparently based on the websites they visited.

A main advocate for both bills is James Steyer, whose brother, Tom, has become a major funder of environmentalist causes and politicians. James Steyer heads the child advocacy Common Sense Media in San Francisco.

“We messed up the privacy of kids, and probably adults, too, in the online commercial, consumer space because we weren’t prepared for the extraordinary pace of technology,” Steyer told The New York Times. “Now we have the opportunity to get it right in the school space.

“Parents are, of course, the first line of defense for their Web-surfing kids. Teachers must monitor use, too, when they expect kids to use educational sites. Parents and teachers could use a little help in the form of Steinberg’s legislation.


March 4

U-T San Diego: A sweet deal for San Diego’s new police chief

Shelley Zimmerman has been confirmed as San Diego’s police chief. She was an excellent choice by new Mayor Kevin Faulconer - nominated even before Faulconer himself took office this week - and the unanimous City Council confirmation was clearly warranted.

She is highly qualified and by all accounts has the leadership skills needed to rebuild the troubled department and to restore the public’s trust.

But Zimmerman is also a high-profile symbol of how the city pension system still abuses San Diego taxpayers.

Zimmerman had enrolled in a special program that thankfully is no longer available to new city employees. Under this program, she is already collecting her annual pension of nearly $131,000 in a special account while also collecting her regular salary.

This can go on for another four years, at which time Zimmerman must leave the city workforce. Her account, with interest, will by then total nearly $655,000. She can walk out the door with that check, and still receive her monthly pension for the rest of her life.

Pretty sweet for Zimmerman. Not so much for taxpayers, few, if any, of whom could ever get that deal in the private sector.


March 5

Santa Maria Times: Kicking off that season

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s an election on the horizon. It happens June 3, and it’s a statewide primary ballot.

As of last weekend, 33 candidates had signed on to compete in races for 25 seats at various levels of government. There may be more, as the filing deadline for candidates is this Friday. More about that in a moment.

American politics can get a bit quirky. Running for office and winning is the loftiest ambition for a person who wants to effect change as a public servant. Simply getting into the race takes some courage. Winning can be euphoric.

What many candidates can’t seem to do is look beyond the successful campaign, to the responsibilities and work that are part of being an elected representative of the people. Some get blind-sided by that responsibility. Others succumb to the aura of being a successful politician, too many times bowing to special interests who approach them bearing gifts.

Nowhere in our culture is the concept of absolute power corrupting absolutely more apparent than in politics. In fact, the general public is so aware of the problem that, in many cases, elected officials are among the least-trusted and least-respected members of society. Many Americans see politicians as toadies or criminals, primarily a function of the scofflaws being the ones who draw the most media attention.

The truth is, that’s not really what political life is all about - and that’s especially true here at the local level. Where the rubber truly hits the road is at City Council or Board of Supervisors meetings.

That’s why it’s a little disappointing that, with 25 elected positions to be decided in the June 3 primary, only 33 candidates have stepped forward to take their chances.

OK, we understand that a ballot with too many names and too many initiatives can be daunting. But no one ever said choosing the best elected leaders or the most judicious laws would be easy work.

And it won’t be. By shortly after 5 p.m. this Friday, we expect more people to toss their figurative hats in the political ring. We hope they do, because despite the hassle of a crowded ballot, the more choices voters have, the better for all of us.

There are important seats to be filled, among them the one occupied on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors by Santa Maria’s Steve Lavagnino. As much as we’ve admired his work on the board in recent years, supporting most of his decisions editorially, it would be good for democracy to have someone running against him. So far, that race for the 5th District spot on the board is uncontested. Sorry, Steve, but competition is a good thing.

There could be some confusion involved in other county races. For example, Sheriff Bill Brown is seeking re-election, and will face off against one of his employees, Sheriff’s Sgt. Sandra Brown. The duplication of surnames could have some voters scratching their heads.

U.S. Rep. Lois Capps is seeking re-election to her seat in Congress, and will face a small brigade of challengers, including Orcutt’s Paul Coyne, Chris Mitchum of Santa Barbara - son of the late movie star Robert Mitchum, and many others.

Just writing about this gets our political juices flowing. As harrowing as a campaign season can be, it is also supremely exciting and stimulating. When you think about it, the process of running for public office, of making contact with the folks you hope to represent, is what this nation is all about.

Like Olympic hopefuls reaching for the Gold, let the games begin.


March 4

Ventura County Star: A chief who led

Ventura’s former Police Chief David Patrick Geary, who ran the Police Department when its first African-American officers were hired, died Feb. 22 - during Black History Month.

Chief Geary, who was also in charge when Ventura promoted its first female patrol officer, was buried Saturday - the first day of Women’s History Month.

Coincidences, surely. Even so, in connection with Chief Geary’s passing, it seems right to mention the pair of month-long observances because they underscore the reality that promoting equal opportunity and diversity is a long-standing challenge for many communities.

As Ventura saw under Chief Geary, meeting the challenge requires a strong commitment on the part of leaders and support from community members.

He was Ventura’s top law enforcement official from 1966 to 1971. Those were turbulent years in the U.S., with anti-war protests, assassinations and civil unrest.

At the same time, Chief Geary set about to overhaul and modernize the Ventura Police Department. He instituted changes at every level aimed at professionalism, stronger emphasis on education and hiring new officers with college degrees instead of high-school diplomas.

However, some of his ways provoked criticism, controversy and opposition. He left the department and taught at the college level in Wisconsin, Florida, Nevada and Virginia before his retirement in 2003. According to family members, Chief Geary died in Richmond, Va., at age 85 after a long illness.

The racial and gender breakthroughs Ventura achieved while he was police chief are milestones the city can justifiably take pride in year-round. That includes April, which will be observed as Celebrate Diversity Month.

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