Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

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Jan. 6

Merced Sun-Star: Hmongs play integral part in creating our gorgeous mosaic

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins once described his city and its immigrants as a "gorgeous mosaic."

It's true of our nation as well.

The mosaic includes the Hmong people of Laos, hundreds of thousands of whom fled to this country in 1975 seeking refuge from the communist Pathet Lao government.

One of those refugees was a 7-year-old boy named Paul Chapao Lo.

Lo recalls that when he was 7, he walked through the jungle with his parents and about 20 other relatives to reach Thailand. The family made its way to the United States. Along with those same thousands, he found a new life in California's Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Lo learned English and attended Tokay High School in Lodi. His first career choice was psychology so he could help fellow Hmong struggling with social disorientation in America. But a counselor waved him off and told him what his people really needed were lawyers.

He graduated from UC Davis with a degree in economics, then UCLA Law School, and started practicing law in Merced.

In Laos, the Hmong legal system was paternalistic and hierarchical; a council of elders meted out justice. No English Common Law, no Napoleonic Code, just a loose amalgam of justice.

Here in Merced, Lo helped Hmong residents navigate a new language and a legal system that was completely alien to them.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently appointed Paul Chapao Lo to the Merced County Superior Court. Now 45, Lo became the first Hmong ever appointed to the Superior Court in the United States. Lo's appointment is a moment of pride not just for the Hmong people, but for all Americans. It's yet another illustration of the American story that has played out across three centuries. You come to the United States, you work hard, you give back, and you make good.

It's an honor for Lo and the Hmong people. It also one more piece of the gorgeous mosaic.

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Jan. 8

San Jose Mercury News: Flu is no joke. Get a shot

Swine flu may sound funny, but it is no joke. The H1N1 strain of the virus invading California and other parts of the country has already proven deadly.

Hospital emergency rooms throughout the Bay Area are showing increases in the number of people reporting flu-like symptoms. And although this is just the beginning of the flu season here, a woman in the East Bay and one in the South Bay already have died. Several other deaths have been reported statewide.

Just in case our point isn't obvious yet: Get a flu shot. Really. Now. Even if you're young and healthy, this strain of virus is nothing to fool around with.

Health officials say it appears similar to the one that ran rampant in 2009. In the 2009-10 flu season, 284,000 people — including 657 Californians — died from swine flu worldwide.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the flu is in full swing in many parts of the country. The latest CDC figures from the final week of 2013 show significant flu activity in 25 states, especially in the bigger ones such as New York, Texas and Illinois.

Classic flu symptoms include aching body, fever, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose and extreme sneezing. But anyone who has been afflicted with this particular strain of flu knows that each of those symptoms, which may sound like a common cold, manifest in exceptionally aggressive and uncomfortable ways. And did we mention they can kill?

During the 2009 outbreak, many people did not get a flu shot because of a shortage of vaccine. But vaccine is plentiful this year, and it's available not only at hospitals and clinics but at many pharmacies and even grocery stores. There is no good reason not to get a shot.

At particular risk are older adults, children under 5 and anyone who has heart or lung disease, diabetes, asthma or who may be pregnant.

The CDC advises everyone to get a flu shot each year and take additional preventive action by washing hands and avoiding contact with sick people. But it's important to know the signs of the flu and treat them immediately. See a doctor and take all the medication prescribed.

And don't even think about treating this flu as something to "power through." It is neither heroic nor admirable to show up at work or school with it. It is stupid for you and inconsiderate of others.

This is all common sense, but it's amazing how widely it's ignored from year to year. So we're trying again. Get a shot.

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Jan. 8

Sacramento Bee: A $71 billion teacher pension liability won't shrink

Senate Democrats announced legislation on Tuesday to expand kindergarten to help 4-year-old children get off to a strong start in school, at a cost of $198 million a year. It's a great idea.

So is this: Paying the debt Californians incurred by promising to provide public school teachers with secure pensions.

The California State Teachers' Retirement System estimates that the cost to fully fund the teachers' pension debt will be almost $4.5 billion in the coming year, $4.6 billion the year after that, and more in each subsequent year.

CalSTRS calculates that 30 years from now — and many veteran teachers who retire now will live another 30 years — the annual cost of fully funding the system will be $13.9 billion.

The Bee's editorial board last wrote about this issue in December 2012. The total unfunded liability stood at $65 billion then. Now, the amount is $71 billion. Like a mortgage, taxpayers in the form of the state, school districts and teachers will need to pay $235 billion during the next 30 years to make good on that $71 billion liability.

The cost is real. The state and school districts — primarily using state funds - have a moral and contractual obligation to pay it.

To the benefit of no one, policymakers have been shortchanging teachers and taxpayers by paying less than 50 percent of the amount that would fully fund pensions in each of the last three years. Indeed, the state has shortchanged the system by paying less than 100 percent of its obligation in each fiscal year since 2001-02.

At some point, however, that has to stop.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been the adult in the room on many issues; he should assert his leadership on this issue, too. The public will get a glimpse of his plan — or lack of one — when he releases his budget proposal for the 2014-15 fiscal year on Friday.

To their credit, Speaker John A. Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg say they recognize the need to make good on teacher pension obligations. But to make good on their promises, they and other legislators may need to forgo accolades that surely would accompany creation of new and innovative programs.

Individually, teacher pensions are hardly exorbitant. The average monthly check is less than $3,700 per year. For many teachers, that's their only retirement pay. California teachers don't pay into Social Security and don't collect it when they retire.

Public school teachers contribute 8 percent of their pay to their pensions. They likely will end up paying a greater share for their retirement; the amount will be subject to bargaining. Newly hired teachers also will need to pay a larger share.

No bread-and-butter issue is more basic than pensions.

The California Teachers Association, probably the most influential public employee union in the state, should use its clout to persuade lawmakers to focus on the unfunded pension liability, rather than waste its political capital on side issues, such as defending job protections for criminals masquerading as teachers.

The amount, $4.5 billion, is daunting, as is $71 billion and $235 billion. But the sums aren't shrinking. Promises were made. Policymakers need to figure out ways to make good on those promises.

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Jan. 7

The Riverside Press-Enterprise: 800 new laws? Good grief.

Real legislative accomplishment requires more than enacting a bunch of new laws. The 2013 legislative session resulted in Gov. Jerry Brown signing more than 800 of the bills that reached his desk. But many of those new laws are politically driven trivia, not serious policy. Legislators need to set aside the narrow pandering, and focus on crucial public business.

Many of the laws that took effect on the first of the year, and some that will roll out over the next few months, do little to address state needs. Yet Brown last year warned against needless legislating, saying the state's future required more than "producing hundreds of new laws each year" and adding more minutia to the state's "already detailed and turgid legal system."

Legislators, however, once again found the lure of minor bills irresistible. The Legislature assumed, for example, that most gun owners lack common sense, and passed a host of new laws aimed at greater scrutiny for them, including AB 231. While undoubtedly well-intentioned — making it a misdemeanor to store a loaded firearm where it is accessible to children — we find it hard to believe that many gun owners store their firearms loaded, much less within the reach of children.

SB 135 earmarked $80 million to build and maintain for five years an earthquake early-warning system that will give Californians 60 seconds to find cover. The effectiveness of such a short warning seems questionable and could give many residents a false sense of security.

The legislative session was also a big one for immigration bills, with AB 60, which lets residents who have entered the country illegally obtain driver's licenses by Jan. 1, 2015, and AB 1024, which allows the undocumented to practice law. Brown did, however, veto a bill to allow illegal immigrants to sit on juries because that is a pleasure of citizenship, the governor reasoned, that only citizens and legal residents should have to undertake.

To be sure, not all 800 laws taking effect this year are of dubious value. AB 1412 and SB 209 reversed a ruling by the Franchise Tax Board that would have collected $120 million in retroactive taxes from about 2,000 state residents for taking advantage of a state tax break that was legal at the time, but that an appellate court ruled unconstitutional in 2012.

At the same time, the Legislature has no shortage of pressing business to address. Another dry winter, for example, has highlighted the need for California to shore up an endangered system of water exports and improve storage capacity. The state still needs to make reforms that can avoid another prison crowding crisis, and ensure the success of the 2011 realignment that shifted some felons and parolees to county control. And the state still has the massive long-term cost of retirement payouts to address, along with a new school financing approach that will need careful oversight.

Those are hardly the only big issues facing California, of course. But progress on the state's priority needs requires serious thought and sustained effort, not just another flurry of trivial, irrelevant or needless laws.

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Jan. 7

U-T San Diego: Rise up, 12th man, rise up

It's on to Denver and all of a sudden all of San Diego has come down with Chargers fever. We've begun to see hordes of fans in Chargers jerseys, T-shirts and caps. If San Diego football fans are of the fair-weather variety, well, the weather couldn't be fairer.

Chargers fever built slowly this year, given the team's rocky start. But if the "December magic" winning spree didn't silence the doubters, last Sunday's against-the-odds victory over the Cincinnati Bengals triggered an explosion of Chargermania. We hope it continues to build as the Chargers advance through the playoffs and hopefully wind up in the Super Bowl.

They're only two wins away.

There's nothing like a winning team to get a city fired up. Several studies even suggest winning teams have tangible economic benefits; according to a 2008 study from the Western Economic Association International, "post-victory increases in fans' self-esteem and personal competencies indirectly account for improved job performance. ... Team performance affects personal reactions and, thus, may have real consequences for the economy."

The only other time the Chargers made the Big Game was in January 1995. They lost Super Bowl XXIX to the San Francisco 49ers, but in the weeks before the game "this bland and beautiful city, which doesn't normally get excited about anything, has gone absolutely nuts," the San Francisco Chronicle observed. After the Chargers beat Pittsburgh to win a berth in the Super Bowl, 70,000 fans jammed into the stadium to welcome the team home. A 100-foot-tall lightning bolt went up on the SeaWorld Skytower. And radio deejays Jeff and Jer organized a human "bolt" of more than 5,000 people in the stadium parking lot.

Vince Vasquez, a senior policy analyst with the National University System's Institute for Policy Research, offered some compelling ideas for building, and showing off, team spirit in a blog posting Sunday night. He cited examples from other cities in recent weeks. San Francisco illuminated City Hall and its international airport in 49ers red and gold. Philadelphia commissioned an ice sculpture and held a pep rally for the Eagles outside City Hall. Indianapolis orchestrated a weeklong "Light The Town Blue" campaign that included a special lighting display at Lucas Oil Stadium, a pep rally, and a city proclamation encouraging residents to light their homes blue.

In comparison, he wrote, San Diego is "somewhat out of step from the way other big cities in America rally team spirit." He gave kudos to interim Mayor Todd Gloria for mounting two 40-foot lightning bolts atop City Hall, as the city did when the Chargers won the AFC West in 2009. Vasquez also urged the public and the private sector to "capture the imagination of the world" with more "bold, inspiring displays of team spirit."

Good idea. Get with it, San Diego. Help the Chargers beat Denver.

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