Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials


Jan. 29

Marysville Appeal-Democrat: Yuba-Sutter rankings leave us feeling a bit shaken

A story Saturday about the health of Yuba-Sutter residents left us feeling a little shaken, a little startled, more than a bit disappointed.

We're ready to do something about it . but the problem, it seems to us, is that while we know what we can each do as individuals for our own health, we don't have a clear idea at all about what we can all do together to improve the health of the general population.

But widespread recognition of the problem, some common goals and coordinated effort couldn't hurt.

It was a story by Andrew Creasey reviewing the findings of the 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment. It was prepared for Fremont-Rideout Health Group by a Sacramento-based consulting organization. As he wrote, the report "paints a dire picture of the state of health" in both Yuba and Sutter counties.

You name the problem, and we've probably got it:

—We smoke too much.

—We're too fat. We have high rates of diabetes. Too many of us suffer from malnutrition.

—Too many of us lack access to medical care.

—A third of our Yuba-Sutter residents have no dental insurance; 25 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from periodontal disease.

—We certainly don't rank particularly well compared to other counties when it comes to overall wellness. And Creasey's report noted that we have a higher death rate than the state averages for most causes. Yuba County was within the seven worst-ranked counties for 10 of 19 causes of death, Creasey reported. The county ranked 55th for death rates from all cancers, from 2009 to 2011.

—Yuba County has the second highest and Sutter the ninth highest rates of lung cancer in the state.

The top three things to tackle? It seems that most problems emanate from tobacco use, obesity and lack of exercise. Those things affect almost every statistic, said Michael Kinnison, interim health officer for Yuba County. It's estimated that 30 percent of cancers are associated with diet and obesity, another 30 percent with tobacco use.

Of course, the report alluded to a couple other rates that are presumed to play a big hand in this depressing collection of statistics: poverty and unemployment. Those problems can't be ignored, but we too often let those things stymie our effort ... because ... what can you do? Besides, we just don't think they account for the whole of the problem.

We suspect apathy is a big player. Or at the least, inattention.

Right now, who's doing anything with this report?

Oh, there's no doubt that the medical community is interested. And there is a committee, representing Fremont-Rideout Health Group and the Sutter and Yuba county health departments, that's getting organized to propose some solutions.

But we don't think this is something we can all just leave up to the special committee to handle for us. This is bigger than a committee. We better all take part in creating a solution.

Maybe the chamber of commerce ought to schedule a business breakfast on the topic. Maybe city councils and county boards and school boards ought to ponder some ways they could be involved — for the long run — in creating solutions.

Maybe each one of us ought to take care of ourselves, and look for some opportunity to solve the problem community-wide.


Jan. 28

Merced Sun Star: Obama's speech soars, but flies over Central Valley again

President Barack Obama made an eloquent plea for equality and opportunity in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

He spoke passionately about the need to reward people who have a work ethic. He lamented that "too many Americans are working longer just to get by," and too many have no jobs. He called on Congress to extend unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed people.

In soaring rhetoric, the president called for an immigration law overhaul and a higher minimum wage. He urged more early childhood education and apprenticeships, and improved higher education. He called for helping working women attain pay parity with men, and a new retirement savings method for all workers.

We couldn't help but think that Obama might have been speaking directly to those of us who live and work in California's Central Valley — except that he has treated the Valley as fly-over territory.

President Lyndon Johnson went to Appalachia 50 years ago to make its poverty real to the rest of the nation. Obama could make some of the same points today in many parts of this Valley. Indeed, a 2005 congressional report said the San Joaquin Valley lags behind Appalachia in some ways.

Obama has pushed for programs that will help, most notably the Affordable Care Act. Large numbers of uninsured residents live in the Central Valley, and will benefit from Obamacare.

An immigration law overhaul, one that gives workers a path to citizenship, would help, too, though he cannot do that without House Republicans.

But for a brief visit to Keene to dedicate the Cesar Chavez National Monument a month before the 2012 election, and a Sacramento fundraiser during the 2008 campaign, Obama has treated the Valley as if it were one more region to fly over.

He could illustrate income inequality in many parts of the Valley, though much of the poverty remains hidden from view, even from its residents. Well-to-do farmers hire migrants who live hand-to-mouth. Developers have become wealthy building houses, but much of the Valley has not recovered from the housing crisis. No region is more bountiful, and yet the need for food stamps is great.

The nation's unemployment rate is down to 6.7 percent. But rates in much of the Central Valley are twice as high. Combined, 380,000 workers exhausted their unemployment benefits in 2013 in the nine-county stretch from Kern through Sacramento, 18.5 percent of all Californians whose benefits ran out. Obama made passing reference to California by pointing to Silicon Valley innovation. But he touted new high-tech hubs in North Carolina and Ohio, swing states. California is not a swing state. Democrats will win here without trying.

It's clear why Obama flies over the Valley. Californians contributed $140 million to Obama's presidential campaign accounts in 2008 and 2012, 20 percent of his total nationally. But the region from Bakersfield to Visalia, Fresno, Merced, Modesto and Stockton accounted for a mere $1.2 million in combined donations to Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

If Obama wanted to do something positive about income inequality, he could do far worse than focus some of his efforts in the Central Valley. He waxes eloquent about injustice and inequality, but follows the money when he visits coastal California, and ignores the other California.


Jan. 29

Placerville Mountain Democrat: Ad tax insanity

Democrats never saw a tax they didn't like. To translate that from the double negative, Democrats love to tax us.

In 1969 there were 155 high-income taxpayers who found enough deductions to not pay any income tax. So Congress enacted a millionaire's tax called the Alternative Minimum Tax. Since then it managed to suck in a lot of middle class taxpayers, while Congress raised it several times in the 1990s from 21 percent to 24 percent and then to 26 percent and finally to 28 percent. Thanks a lot, Congress.

Then in 2012 Congress exempted married couples filing jointly who made $78,750 or less and single filers who made $50,600 or less. Those figures are now automatically indexed for inflation. A couple who make $40,000 each for a total of $80,000 are going to be facing the AMT.

What is little known is that the AMT also applies to corporations. And now Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a member of the Subcommittee on Taxation, wants to tax advertising.

The Montana Democrat must have had a brain freeze visiting his home state during the winter.

This is absolutely guaranteed to carve the beating heart out of community newspapers. It will kill off struggling Yahoo and wipe out billions of dollars of value from Google and Facebook, to name some obvious advertising-dependent businesses.

But, wait. It gets worse. The ad tax proposal would require all advertisers to wait up to five years before they can fully deduct the cost of half of their advertising as a business expense.

As noted in a letter submitted by the Newspaper Association of America, 46 press associations plus the California Newspaper Publishers Association, "The U. S. tax code permits a business to deduct the cost of advertising in the year it is purchased just as it permits the deduction of other ordinary business costs such as salaries, office rent, utilities and similar expenses. The advertising deduction proposal would be the most sweeping change to the tax treatment of advertising costs in the 100-year history of the tax code."

"The proposed tax would have an immediate and devastating impact on newspapers and other media, where advertisers underwrite much of the cost of bringing news, information and entertainment to all Americans," the groups write. Oh, just think about the gazillions our wonderful government would reap by taxing Super Bowl advertising. The result would be fewer ads and dumber ads. It could become so dispiriting that there wouldn't be a reason for most of the country to watch the Super Bowl anymore.

Here are some astounding figures from NNA: "Advertising currently accounts for $5.8 trillion of the $33.8 trillion in U.S. economic output and supports 21.1 million of the 136.2 million U.S. jobs, according to estimates by economic consulting firm IHS Global Insight provided by the Newspaper Association of America."

Advertising is what makes the economy work. It is an absolutely essential way for companies to communicate with the public, to tell us about new products.

Don't mess with 17 percent of the American economy. Congress already screwed up that much with Obamacare. Don't go for 34 percent with the Democratic congressional wrecking ball, even if you throw in Miley Cyrus.

Be satisfied with your 35 percent corporate tax rate — tied with France for the fourth highest in the world. Be happy with your confiscatory personal income taxes and Alternative Minimum Tax. Don't tax advertising. Sen. Baucus, take your appointment as ambassador to China and get out of Washington, D.C., before you ruin the whole country with your crazy tax-and-spend schemes. We'll feel safer once you are in Communist China. You'll feel more at home there.


Jan. 28:

Los Angeles Times: Bringing back an L.A. program that worked

It's always satisfying to see an elected leader fulfill a campaign pledge, and it's all the better when a promise kept restores a popular and effective program. City Attorney Mike Feuer announced last week that he's begun hiring to double the number of neighborhood prosecutors from eight to 16. He hopes to enlarge the staff even more in the coming year.

Created in 2002, the neighborhood prosecutor program assigns deputy city attorneys to work in police divisions, alongside officers and residents, on quality-of-life problems such as illegal dumping, noisy party houses, drug activity, prostitution and stray dogs. The prosecutors became popular among neighborhood councils and homeowners groups, as well as City Council offices, because they were accessible problem-solvers who could navigate the city bureaucracy, mediate disputes and employ the resources and powers of the court system.

But the program was slashed by then-City Attorney Carmen Trutanich during the recession. Trutanich had backed the neighborhood prosecutors when he first ran for office, but the program wasn't among his top priorities. It didn't help that he was at war with city leaders over his budget, and he was forced to make significant staff cuts. He chose to lose the community problem-solvers in favor of more traditional prosecutors.

Feuer has a more amiable relationship with the City Council and mayor, and shortly after he took office — surprise — they found $580,000 to help hire more neighborhood prosecutors.

Politics aside, this is the right move. The program is popular for a reason: It works. Neighborhood prosecutors attend Police Department roll calls and know the local crime issues. They are regulars at community meetings and work with residents on what matters most to them. They're empowered to prosecute misdemeanors but also know how to use code enforcement or other city resources as alternative ways to address a problem.

There are some kinds of issues that especially lend themselves to this kind of program. One community, for instance, had a particular house that was a center of drug sales and gang activity. The police were called repeatedly, but as soon as they left, the troubles returned. Rather than pursue a slew of misdemeanor charges against the occupants, the neighborhood prosecutor tracked down the homeowner, an elderly man who was not in a position to control his tenants. The attorney worked on a conservatorship for the owner and got the troublesome renters evicted.

This approach has a practical side as well. In Los Angeles, a misdemeanor conviction rarely results in a meaningful jail term. As a result, law enforcement is having to rethink how it deals with smaller, quality-of-life crimes that can have big implications for communities. Neighborhood prosecutors can help; the city attorney's office is wise to revive the program.


Jan. 28

Orange County Register: A not-so-bright idea

Jan. 1 marked the full implementation of the federal government's ban on traditional incandescent light bulbs, as 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs were phased out. Congressional Republicans made one last-gasp attempt to fight the ban by inserting a provision into the omnibus spending bill preventing the Department of Energy from enforcing the ban, though they did not overturn the ban and manufacturers have resigned to it, no longer making the banned bulbs.

The bulb ban was included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was passed with the help of Republican votes and signed into law by President George W. Bush. It was not just environmentalists who pushed for the prohibition. The provision also enjoyed strong support from manufacturers, who stood to benefit from the higher profit margins of the remaining higher-cost, energy-efficient bulbs.

As some Republican lawmakers learned, many people don't like being told how to live their lives. During a failed attempt by some Republicans to repeal the ban in 2011, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who had co-sponsored the EISA, issued a mea culpa: "The public response on this issue is a clear signal that markets — not governments — should be driving technological advancements." Even in the face of inevitability, a January 2014 Rasmussen poll shows that 60 percent still oppose the ban, and just 25 percent support it.

Whether the issue is cost, a preference for the light cast by incandescent versus energy-efficient bulbs, the inability to dim some compact fluorescent light or light-emitting diode bulbs, concerns over the potentially-harmful mercury contained in CFL bulbs or simply resistance to government paternalism, many consumers have rendered a verdict in favor of the traditional incandescent bulbs.

Not that this would have always remained the case. If CFL, LED, or other types of light bulbs not yet invented truly are superior, consumers will choose to use them. Instead, people have been forced to stockpile their preferred incandescent bulbs.

The light-bulb ban may not have eviscerated freedom as we know it, but it is symptomatic of the heavy-handed approach used by both major political parties to dictate how we live our lives and what choices we are allowed to make.

Moreover, it raises a frightening question: If politicians and bureaucrats are willing to revoke so trivial a freedom, which aspects of our lives and what choices that we take for granted today remain beyond the reach of their dictates?


Jan. 28

Palm Springs Desert Sun: Congress drops the ball on supporting counties

Congress reaped well-deserved praise when it passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill earlier this month, avoiding another "fiscal cliff." But in the process, negotiators dropped the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, known as PILT.

Approved by Congress in 1976, the program compels the U.S. Department of the Interior to make annual payments to counties and territories with federal land that is exempt from property taxes. It's a fair deal to compensate local officials for the upkeep of federal land.

In 2013, the department paid out $401.8 million to 1,900 counties in 49 states — every state but Rhode Island. The president proposes $425 million this year.

Riverside County is blessed to have lots of federal land, such as the San Bernardino National Forest and most of Joshua Tree National Park. Last year, the county got $3.11 million in PILT funds. Losing that income would be a tough blow.

Congressional leaders on Monday added PILT funding as part of the farm bill, even though it doesn't have much to do with farming.

Ryan Yates of the National Association of Counties in Washington says he hasn't heard any members of Congress say they want to end the program.

"Most understand that this is a federal obligation," Yates said. "The federal government owns over 600 million acres of land that the counties are unable to collect property taxes on. Funding the PILT program is the federal government's way of paying its share of the property taxes."

In most cases, PILT funding makes up about 5 percent of county budgets. But in the poorest counties where most of the land is federally owned, without the money officials would not be able to provide basic services such as fire protection and sewers.

There's no guarantee of passage of the massive farm bill, which weighs in at 950 pages, and there's plenty of controversy. Republicans want to offset the PILT funding with cuts in other parts of the farm bill. The latest version proposes to cut food stamps by 1 percent, which would save $800 million.

In total, the five-year bill would spend $100 billion a year and save $2.3 billion annually. The bill also would:

—End a $4.5 billion subsidy known as direct payments, which are now paid to farmers whether they farm or not.

—Continue to subsidize major crops such as corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat.

—Eliminate or combine 23 duplicative and overlapping conservation programs into 13, saving more than $6 billion.

The bill has been debated for two years. A vote is expected in the House on Wednesday. House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other Republicans endorse the bill. Passage is expected in the Senate.

In a House Rules Committee hearing a few weeks ago, GOP leaders said they were committed to making sure the county payments go out in June as normal.

You can debate many aspects of the farm bill — including food stamps and whether major agribusinesses need the government's help — but there's no question Congress should help pay for the impact of federal land on local communities.

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