Thursday, July 15, 2010


“Despite recent rains, California’s Water Crisis Continues.” That was the headline of an article in a 12-page brochure distributed in Riverside County by the Eastern Municipal Water District.

That pessimistic pronouncement reminded me of a column I wrote back in 1996 that parodied the media mantra discounting the beneficial effect of the heavy rains Southern California had been experiencing. My ironic conclusion was that if the drought got any worse, we were all going to drown.

History has a way of repeating itself--especially among bureaucrats for whom a crisis is a terrible thing to be without.

The aforementioned article in the 11x12 inch mailer focused attention first of all on “years of low rainfall.” Perhaps EMWD had as hard a time as I did securing annual rainfall totals—absent a paid subscription service. But the data I eventually found for Temecula showed above average rainfall for two of the last three seasons--and near average for the other. (Average seasonal rainfall is around 13 inches.)

Indeed, the last season of severe drought was in 2006/2007 (3.75 inches). Two years earlier the area was drenched with over 30 inches of wet stuff. The rainfall pattern for Fallbrook, relative to its 16-inch average, isn’t much different over the last six years.

In a rare doff of the hat to truthfulness, the EMWD booklet did mention the primary reason a “water crisis” exists in Southern California—namely, that “regulatory restrictions have required massive reductions in California’s water supply to protect certain fish species.”

The glorified minnow whose presumed endangered status triggered the “massive reductions” of water supplies to Southern California is the delta smelt—a species or sub-species that some folks argue is indistinguishable from a critter that flourishes back East.

Fortunately for most folks in the Southland the primary consequences of this bureaucratically mandated drought are higher water prices and regularly reiterated warnings about rationing. Unfortunately for residents of the San Joaquin Valley, the absence of water has contributed to an unemployment rate of around 16 percent in San Joaquin County.

The fact that our “water crisis” is largely government-manufactured puts a different face on the 11-billion dollar Water Bond that the taxpayer-funded EMWD information packet also urges readers to swallow. Measures to combat natural disasters and accommodate population growth are quite different from spending designed to combat the effects of misguided government programs.

Senate candidate Carly Fiorina recently weighed in on the delta smelt issue by denouncing “extreme environmentalists” and Senator Boxer’s “theology” that believes “fish are more important than families.”

Put otherwise, our biggest problem is with the crisis-makers themselves.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


At least one SoCal radio station has been promoting a charity that’s soliciting funds by asserting that many children in the area are going hungry this summer because they’re no longer getting the free meals that were provided at school.

This sales pitch raised a question in my mind because over thirty years ago I worked in a government food stamp office in Atlanta, Georgia. I knew first-hand that these benefits, even in the late 70s, were rather generous. And I knew they were available in short order for folks without assets and income.

So I decided to check on the monthly food stamp allotment in California for a family of three without assets. You can do your own figuring at

I recall from sheer repetition that the late 70s figure in Georgia was $120. Today the amount available in California to a three-person household without significant assets and any income is $526.

Note that $526 isn’t the total amount of welfare benefits for which this household qualifies. There are other sources of income like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that annually dispenses 6.6 billion dollars in aid throughout the Golden State (3.7 billion of which comes from the feds).

The benefits from the latter program, however, are distributed in the form of cash grants that can be accessed via Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) debit cards and ATM machines. As was recently disclosed, these EBT cards even work at ATMs in 32 of 58 tribal casinos and 47 of 90 state-licensed poker rooms.

The fact that the state has been oblivious to this absurd juxtapositioning of welfare cash and casino ATMs makes it a good bet that a lot of money dedicated to food stamps is also directed (by other means) toward less-than-nutritional objectives.

In short, most households have to be extraordinarily irresponsible with the money available to them for their kids to actually “go hungry”—school or no school. A different set of disclosure circumstances faces households where adults aren’t in the country legally. But the “hungry children” promo said nothing about that issue—for obvious PR reasons.

Bottom line: Folks should be wary of solicitations that employ the malleable “hunger” category—a term that describes almost everyone during certain hours of the day. What truly deserve support are efforts to prevent “malnutrition” and “starvation”—both of which are abundant in abysmally poor countries.

In the Southland, donations to character-focused programs like those of Father Joe Carroll’s Toussaint Youth Village are far more likely to do lasting good than bucks to assuage summertime gastric growls.