The Stockton Record: No bang for buck
The scam sounds as cliché as they come: Pass along fake money at a vendor where the proceeds help the blind and visually impaired.
Except this was not a joke. And it actually happened.
And we all should be outraged by this selfish, cowardly act.
It was not just a fireworks stand for the Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired that was scammed, there were at least seven other charities as well.
These booths are staffed by volunteers looking to help their nonprofit raise funds by selling safe and sane fireworks.
They are trained on various retail practices, including spotting counterfeit bills. But these crooks were good. Their scam was to buy just enough that they would need to use large bills. For example, they would purchase $54 worth of fireworks and pay with two $50 bills or buy $109 worth of goods and pay with two $100 bills.
In return they got a fairly large amount of change and goods too.
The bills that were passed at the Center for the Blind's booth in the Costco parking lot on Hammer Lane were so good that they were not recognized as bogus until run through a bank scanner.
All in all, the Center for the Blind lost $700 in cash and products.
You ask yourself why would someone want to hurt a nonprofit? Afterall, these organizations are trying to help those in our community who need help. But then again, criminals are not known for their conscience or random acts of kindness. They see an opportunity they can take advantage of and go for it.
Even as this story came to light, one person showed up at the Blind Center's fireworks booth on Monday and tried to buy goods with a $50 bill that was rejected by the volunteer working the booth.
The would-be patron did not protest that the money was good or even ask for it back. Instead he just went away.
It is sad that this problem will not disappear as easily.
It is a sad reminder that crime tries to settle in when it sees an opportunity, no matter who it hurts.
Let's hope it does not get too comfortable.
The Sacramento Bee: San Francisco casts vote for compassion for people with severe mental illness
In a vote that should prompt other California policymakers to act, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance insisting that people who suffer from severe mental illness receive care, rather than leave them to languish on the streets.
Supervisor Mark Farrell authored the ordinance creating an assisted outpatient treatment program. San Francisco supervisors voted 9-2 for it on Tuesday, sending it to Mayor Ed Lee for his expected signature.
San Francisco is the fourth county to fully embrace a 2002 state statute known as Laura's Law, joining Nevada, Yolo and Orange counties. San Francisco is by far the most liberal, which is noteworthy. In the past, liberals have been the strongest opponents of insisting that people who are so sick that they don't know they're ill receive care.
The adoption of a Laura's Law ordinance doesn't mean individuals will be forced into locked psychiatric wards. Rather, judges could issue orders compelling people to receive care while living in their homes.
Individuals are expected to attend therapy and take anti-psychotic medication if psychiatrists deem them to be necessary. Family, police and others could request that authorities evaluate individuals for inclusion in the program. To become subject to it, a person must have been hospitalized for mental illness, or jailed in recent years.
The 2002 law legislation that authorized counties to adopt such an ordinance was named for Laura Wilcox, a college sophomore who was working as a temporary receptionist at the Nevada County Behavioral Health Department when a mentally ill man shot and killed her.
Some misguided advocates for mentally ill people take the view that people should never be coerced to get care. But clearly, the use of voluntary treatment doesn't work for some people. Farrell estimates that fewer than 1,000 of San Francisco's 780,000 residents might become part of the program.
Other counties should take note of San Francisco's action, as should California's congressional delegation.
Rep. Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican, is pushing HR 3717, which would free federal funds for expanded care for the most severely mentally ill people, and relax federal privacy law that denies family members access to information about mentally ill loved ones. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of Bakersfield, ought to make this issue a priority.
Republicans who have not joined Murphy are Reps. Doug LaMalfa of Richland, Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Jeff Denham of Turlock. Democrats Doris Matsui of Sacramento and John Garamendi of Walnut Grove have not signed on, either.
Several congressional members were in the Legislature in 2002 and voted for Laura's Law, including McClintock, Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno and Rep. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough. They should add their voices in support of Murphy's bill.
Some people say care in the form of assisted outpatient treatment is the last resort. It's not. The last resort is when mentally ill people commit suicide, become victims of violence, or commit crimes that land them in prison. In San Francisco, Farrell is not seeking to repeal anyone's rights. To the contrary, he is insisting that people have a right to care.
San Francisco Chronicle: Controller's race shows flaws in California recount process
June's sleepy primary election just got a lot more exciting. Assemblyman John Perez has requested a recount in the battle for state controller. He's trailing fellow Democrat Betty Yee, a member of the Board of Equalization, by just 481 votes in the race for the second ballot spot in November.
Perez's call for a selective review of ballots also puts California's election recount system on display, and it doesn't look very pretty.
For starters, Yee has rightly said that it is unfair that Perez is able to select the counties in which he wants a recount. Perez is calling for a recount in some precincts in 15 counties, including his base in Los Angeles. It's also unfair that Perez, who was able to raise more money than Yee, will be able to pay for the staggering costs of the recount out of leftover money from his campaign for controller. (A complete recount by hand of ballots cast in Los Angeles County alone is estimated at $1 million.)
"It just strikes me as patently undemocratic and a potential violation of the equal protection clause," said Parke Skelton, campaign consultant for Yee.
That said, Perez is merely following California law — and that means it's the law that needs to be changed.
"We're still requesting the largest recount in state history," said Perez campaign strategist Douglas Herman. "We are being fiscally prudent. Many, many states have an automatic recount provision that is paid for by the state when the margin is this thin. California should as well."
Given how this recount battle is already playing out, it's hard to argue with him.
Los Angeles Times: Addressing the border crisis
Tens of thousands of Central American children, some accompanied by adults but most traveling alone, have surged across the U.S.-Mexican border in recent months. The flood has swamped the border security infrastructure as well as the youth housing facilities maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under federal law, HHS must take charge of unaccompanied and undocumented minors 72 hours after they are detained by immigration agents.
Washington can, and should, try to stop illegal immigration at the border, but it would be wiser ... to stabilize the communities from which immigrants are running.
Now the Obama administration is asking Congress — which can't agree on what day it is, let alone enact a law — to spend an additional $2 billion to improve the government's ability to handle the growing problem. The president also wants Congress to change the 2008 federal law that automatically routes minors to immigration court; instead, he wants to let border agents quickly deport those children who can't make a prima facie case for why they should be let in, a move designed to both lessen the burden on the system and serve as a deterrent to those still hoping to enter.
This humanitarian crisis, which is how President Obama has described it, is both divisive and frustrating, and finding long-term solutions will require a broad and nuanced understanding of the problem. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has argued, this is a regional crisis that demands regional solutions — not just more guards at the border or more lawyers in the immigration courts. The United States should be involved in those solutions because it is more than just a wealthy country that attracts illegal immigrants; it bears some responsibility of its own for the violence and instability in Central America.
According to a recent report by the independent, nonprofit International Crisis Group, rivalries between drug traffickers and an absence of governmental control along the Guatemala-Honduras border have made the area among the most violent in the world. Where are the drugs heading? Primarily to the U.S., where most of the demand for marijuana and cocaine comes from. Similarly, the most powerful street gangs in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are transnational and have their roots in U.S. cities, including Los Angeles. And while drugs are being smuggled north, guns are being smuggled south. More than a quarter-million guns are slipped across the U.S.-Mexico border each year, according to a 2013 study by the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute.
Why does this matter? Because those who have spent time interviewing the unaccompanied minors showing up at the U.S. border report that the vast majority of them say they are fleeing violence and instability in their home countries — primarily Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The children have described the conscriptions of boys by gangs, and retaliation against the families of those who refuse, including, in some cases, rape. Ironically, U.S. deportations of foreign-born criminals help feed the gangs that are prompting the flow of minors north.
It's important to distinguish between why someone flees a city and his or her decision on where to go. Once fear of gangs and violence seals the decision to run, the vast majority are choosing the U.S. as a destination, often hoping to reunite with family members who are already there. Many also are lured by misinformation spread by coyotes and traffickers suggesting that children, and mothers with children, can get permisos — permits — to stay. Some misinterpret the June 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers temporary status to some children who arrived before 2007, thinking that they too will be allowed to stay. But in fact, new arrivals are not eligible for the program. And insufficient space in detention centers and youth housing facilities has led immigration authorities to release some young detainees into the custody of relatives or other sponsors, with an appearance ticket for a later court hearing. Thus the rumors of permisos spread.
Significantly, it's not just children fleeing the instability. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported last week that there has been a sevenfold increase since 2009 in undocumented migrants of all ages seeking entry because they face a "credible fear" of being the victim of violence if returned to their home countries, most of them from Mexico and Central America. So violence as a catalyst for migration has been a long-unfolding problem.
The Obama administration is right to seek humane ways of dealing with the influx, including adding immigration judges, lawyers and others crucial to a speedier deportation process. Sending people back more quickly would also help blunt the rumors of permisos for children. But in addition, the government needs to consider the connections between the American drug users who create the demand that feeds the violent drug cartels, the multinational street gangs and the free flow of illicit weapons across the border.
What can be done? Reducing drug demand and the southward flow of guns would help, as would an increase in U.S. assistance designed to stimulate economic development in Central America, and thus job prospects. The U.S. could expand its work with gang-intervention programs in the Central American barrios. Homeland Security recently moved 60 additional investigators to its anti-smuggling efforts along the Texas border, efforts that should continue and, if needed, increase to break up the human trafficking networks. Everard Meade, director of the Trans-Border Institute, suggests treating the violence surrounding the drug traffickers and street gangs "like the regional armed conflict that it actually is" rather than as a U.S. immigration problem.
Washington can, and should, try to stop illegal immigration at the border, but it would be wiser and more humane to find ways to stabilize the communities from which immigrants are running. Any solutions must come with the full involvement and engagement of the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, a challenge given the endemic corruption in those governments. But the U.S. is in the best position to bring the players together and forge the strategic, regional approach to ending this humanitarian crisis.
Orange County Register: Real plans for artificial islands
It first hit the news as the latest and greatest libertarian utopia - a project adopted by a handful of seeming crackpots and eccentrics. Now, the "seasteading" movement is getting serious. But it's not just peaceful dreamers who want to disrupt political reality with man-made islands.
The concept behind seasteading is simple: If you build an island in international waters, people will come — in search of a place to live, work and create, free from cumbersome regulations. What's new, this year, is the level of technical seriousness gathering around that dream. Leading seasteaders drawing deep from Silicon Valley talent are scouting out locations, forging engineering partnerships and drawing hundreds of "charter residents."
Based in Oakland, the Seasteading Institute is built from a tiny group of highly motivated, tech-friendly libertarians, such as PayPal scion Peter Thiel and legendary economist Milton Friedman's grandson Patri. For some Americans skeptical about "ideological" fantasies, their scheme seems lost in the clouds, not ready for sea.
China, however, is not so skeptical.
While much of America scoffs at its most risk-tolerant visionaries, the Chinese are planning to use artificial-island technology to protect and project their power in one of the most disputed territorial hot spots on Earth.
If you think this kind of military project is a one-off, think again. Governments will respond to the same problem the seasteaders have already identified: Just about all the land territory on our planet has been claimed. The last two great technological leaps in ocean dominance gave us the global deep-water navy — anchored by aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. The next technological leap will spread artificial islands throughout key commercial and military waterways.
While the seasteaders seek to escape government control, however, nations like China want to use the same tools to extend it. That offers countries around the world an important strategic choice with big implications for the United States.
Take a country like Nicaragua — recently on the mend from debilitating political violence and eager for a way to pull its impoverished people toward a more promising future. While the Seasteading Institute's site selection study uses Nicaragua's Gulf of Fonseca as a model, Chinese and Russian interests are forging ahead with shadowy but grand plans to cut a canal through the Central American country.
Is Nicaragua more likely to grant permits for an artificial island to Mr. Thiel and Mr. Friedman, or to Moscow and Beijing? The possible scenarios that play out from these two alternatives ought to give us pause.
In a way, it's surprising that seasteading wasn't first a creation of the U.S. military — which led the way on everything from atomic power to the Internet. But we can be certain that the military applications of seasteading are going to be as ubiquitous in the future as drone technology.
We're fortunate that Americans are first to the seasteading party, for which we should be rooting, and more.
The Desert Sun: Immigration debacle
The protests in Murrieta that turned away buses full of undocumented women and children last week is not a chapter in the long story of immigration of which to be proud.
There's lots of blame to go around.
President Obama deserves some for over-promising the message that refugees from Central America can seek citizenship in the United States.
Congress deserves some for failing to provide the resources to secure the border and reform national immigration policy.
The Department of Homeland Security deserves some for bringing the immigrants to Murrieta's U.S. Customs and Border Protection Station at all. This is a place where drug dealers are dealt with. There is no dorm and no dining hall. Federal officials should have known that.
Murrieta Mayor Alan Long deserves some for politicizing the event.
As Valley Voice writer Bob Henry explains in his column on this page, this is not an illegal immigration problem. It's a refugee crisis, just like we've seen in the Middle East and Africa. Federal law does not permit U.S. authorities to turn away refugees — and we've heard no proposals to change that law.
The U.S. has a long history of helping in such troubled times. We look back proudly at Operation Babylift, which brought thousands of Vietnamese orphans to the U.S. and elsewhere at the end of the war in 1975. Many of those orphans have become productive citizens of Southern California.
We don't know what the future holds for these refugees from the hemisphere we share. We don't know the answers to this complex situation. But we do know that screaming and shouting hate into the faces of innocent children is shameful.