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A field of almond trees is reflected in an irrigation canal in Firebaugh, Calif., in the San Joaquin Valley in 2009. The Almond Board of California says that in the past two decades, the industry has reduced its water consumption by 33 percent per pound of almonds produced. (AFP/Getty Images)

California Drought Has Wild Salmon Competing With Almonds For Water

by Alastair Bland
Aug 21, 2014

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Gill rot in a dead fish taken from the Klamath River in California on July 23, 2014.

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The ongoing California drought has pitted wild salmon against farmers in a fight for water. While growers of almonds, one of the state's biggest and most lucrative crops, enjoy booming production and skyrocketing sales to China, the fish, it seems, might be left high and dry this summer—and maybe even dead.

Thousands of adult king, or Chinook, salmon are now struggling to survive in the Klamath River of northern California, where waters are running dangerously low and warm due to diversion of river flows into the Central Valley, an intensely farmed agricultural area. If more water isn't let into the Klamath River within the coming days, the salmon, which are migrating upstream toward their spawning grounds, could succumb to a disease called gill rot.

The disease, which played a role in the 2002 Klamath die-off of tens of thousands of Chinook, flourishes in warm water and is already creeping through the salmon population. Frankie Myers, a member of the Yurok tribe, a Native American group that lives in the Klamath River basin, tells The Salt about 1,000 salmon have already died this summer in a 100-mile stretch of river. Now, the remaining fish, which cannot survive in water much warmer than 70 degrees, are clustering in dense schools around the mouths of cold tributary streams, seeking relief from the sun-warmed river.

Members of local tribes have pleaded with government officials to step in and help by releasing cold water from the federally managed Trinity Lake, a reservoir upstream of the salmon. This would chill the river, stop the disease in its tracks and allow the salmon to continue their spawning migration.

The problem is, most of Trinity Lake's water has been promised by government water managers to other users, including cities and industry.

On Tuesday, members of Klamath basin tribal groups convened in Sacramento to rally officials to save the Klamath's Chinook salmon. "For us, salmon is life," Chook-Chook Hillman, a 30-year-old tribesman who was at the rally, tells The Salt. "Without salmon, we'd might as well just pack it up as a people." Hillman says the regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages much of the state's water, promised in a private meeting that his agency would decide sometime Thursday whether or not to give the Klamath salmon more water.

The Klamath River flows into the Pacific Ocean near Oregon and is naturally separated from the interior regions of California by a coastal mountain range. But in the 1960s, the Bureau of Reclamation built an 11-mile tunnel connecting Trinity Lake to the Sacramento River basin to send Klamath-basin water to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. Today, the arid valley is a major producer of the world's almonds, as well as other nuts and stone fruits, grapes and alfalfa.

But the North Coast tribal people question the fairness of a system by which crops hundreds of miles away depend on their river water at the expense of salmon.

"It's not our fault they have orchards to water in the desert, and it's not the fish's fault, either," Hillman says. "We shouldn't have to pay for that."

While the BOR technically has not allotted any water to farmers this year due to drought, producers in the valley whose supplies have been cut may still purchase water from others who didn't experience cutbacks. Others may tap into the state's shrinking groundwater reservoirs. One way or another, most fruit orchards receive the water they need each year.

Almonds are one of California's most important crops, with 80 percent of the crop now exported (mostly to China), according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. From 2004 to 2013, California's almond harvest exploded from a billion to 2 billion pounds and record high production is forecasted for this year, in spite of ongoing drought.

Jenny Nicolau with the Almond Board of California says almond growers have learned how to use water more efficiently. In the past two decades, she notes, the almond industry has reduced its water consumption by 33 percent per pound of almonds produced. And while production has increased, the industry's water use has remained about the same for at least a decade. She says agriculture uses less than 50 percent of the state's water.

But David Zetland, a water policy analyst and author, says this is a distortion of facts. He tells The Salt that of all the state's water that is diverted from rivers and reservoirs, 80 percent ultimately lands in fields and orchards.

Decades ago, dams built to create reservoirs for agricultural use dented or killed most of California's salmon runs. Relatively healthy runs of Chinook salmon still spawn in the Sacramento and the Klamath rivers, though sustaining them involves a complex life-support system of hatcheries, transporting migrating fish in trucks and boats and constant monitoring of water supplies.

As of Aug. 20, the BOR was pumping about 2,100 cubic feet per second of water from Trinity Lake into the Sacramento River system, leaving just 430 cubic feet per second flowing into the Trinity River, a major tributary of the Klamath. Many of the salmon currently at risk are stranded below the confluence of these two rivers, which means higher releases from Trinity Lake could save them.

Janet Sierzputowski, a BOR spokeswoman, says the water currently being diverted from the Trinty-Klamath system is intended to benefit the Sacramento River's own salmon. After all, two of the Sacramento's four distinct salmon runs — the spring Chinook and the winter Chinook — are on the endangered species list.

But Zeke Grader, a board member of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, an environmental group, says the Bureau's claim is "nonsense." He explains that, by this time of year, the Sacramento's threatened spring run and endangered winter run Chinook are already too far upstream to reap any of the benefits of the cool Trinity Lake water, which flows into the Sacramento downstream of where Grader says the fish are now spawning.

"They're not [transferring Trinity water to the Sacramento] for the salmon," he says. "They're doing it for the almonds."

In a statement released on Aug. 19, the Bureau of Reclamation's regional director David Murillo said conditions affecting the health of salmon in the Klamath system would be "monitored on a real-time basis" and, if necessary, addressed with more water released into the river.

But real-time may not be fast enough. That's because it takes three to four days for water to flow from Trinity Lake to the region where the salmon are currently holding, according to Craig Tucker, the Karuk tribe's natural resources advocate.

"They're telling us they'll let water go once they see dead fish," Tucker says. "But once an epidemic starts, it's hard to stop."

For Myers, the government's reluctance to save the salmon his tribe depends on comes as yet another blow to their embattled traditions.

"Not only are they asking the Native Americans to sacrifice their culture, but we're doing it so we can sell almonds to the Chinese," he says.

Alastair Bland is a freelance writer based in San Francisco who covers food, agriculture and the environment.

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Leon Evans, director of the community mental health system for Bexar County and San Antonio, broke through barriers that had hindered care. (Kaiser Health News)

Mental Health Meets 'Moneyball' In San Antonio

by Jenny Gold
Aug 21, 2014 (Kaiser Health News)

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Gill rot in a dead fish taken from the Klamath River in California on July 23, 2014.

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The jails aren't overflowing in San Antonio anymore. People with serious mental illnesses have a place to go for treatment and the city has saved $10 million a year on. How did it happen?

"You know Brad Pitt in the movie Moneyball?" asks Gilbert Gonzalez, Director for the Bexar County Mental Health Department. "Well, the success in that movie was based on the data and analytics. We needed to do the same thing."

Gonzalez's task was to look at all the money San Antonio was spending on mental health in one way or another.

Just eight years ago, the jails, hospitals, courts, police and mental health department in Bexar County all worked separately.

Each part of the system was encountering the same people with serious illnesses, but the people were just cycling through, not getting better. Gonzalez found that the city was spending enormous sums of money while taking care of people with mental illness poorly.

So Leon Evans, director of the community mental health system for Bexar County and San Antonio, got everyone talking. That turned out to be the most challenging piece of the puzzle.

"If you think law enforcement and mental health workers have anything in common, we don't," says Evans. "We speak a different language. We have different goals. There's not a lot of trust there."

But once the decision-makers saw what could be done if they pooled their resources, every sector chipped in and the county built a single, integrated system where people with mental illnesses could actually get better.

Among other things, the San Antonio center has a 48-hour inpatient psychiatric unit, outpatient primary care and psychiatric services, help with substance abuse, housing for people with mental illnesses and job training. More than 18,000 people pass through the Restoration Center each year.

"San Antonio is ahead of what's a growing trend across the country to try to build a non-hospital alternative for people who are experiencing a psychiatric emergency, often with co-occurring alcohol or other drug abuse," says Dr. Mark Munetz, a psychiatrist and professor at Northeast Ohio Medical University who toured the Restoration Center last year.

But he says the San Antonio model might not work everywhere. The Restoration Center and homeless shelter, he says, felt like "a psychiatric oasis, removing the people from the most central part of the city. It felt a little like segregating people in that part of the city, especially with the homeless shelter next door. I'm not sure how that would fly in other parts of the country."

Nonetheless, the rest of the country has started to notice. City officials say every state in the country has sent delegates to San Antonio to see if they can model their own mental health systems after this one.

Copyright 2014 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/.

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Puerto Rican Princesses And Mexican Centaurs

Aug 21, 2014 (Kaiser Health News)

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Achieving any kind of longevity in the music business is a tricky proposition. So when a genuine legend continues to produce engaging and artistic music, we take notice.

This week, we play a track from such a legend: Sergio Mendes. He played with the pioneers of bossa nova back in the late 1950s and had a string of popular albums in the mid-'60s after moving to the U.S. Fast-forward to this year, and Mendes is enjoying his third or fourth wave of popularity with a series of albums he's recorded with artists such as will.i.am, John Legend and Brazilian contemporaries such as Milton Nascimento.

Who among the new crop of artists we feature this week on Alt.Latino will achieve that kind of longevity? My crystal ball cracked recently, so I won't even pretend to guess. But give the show a listen and let us know who you think will be around making music 50 years from now.

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Thailand's newly appointed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures in a traditional greeting during his to a unit of the Queen's Guard outside of Bangkok on Thursday. (Reuters/Landov)

Thailand's Parliament Hands Prime Minister Post To Coup Leader

Aug 21, 2014 (Kaiser Health News)

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The man who toppled Thailand's democratically elected government in May has been chosen as the country's interim prime minister.

Not surprisingly, junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha's hand-picked legislature voted 191-0, with three abstentions to legitimize the coup leader's role as head of government. He was the only candidate.

Michael Sullivan, reporting for NPR from Thailand, says: "Today's vote is the first step toward creating an interim government, but the army remains firmly in control. Gen. Prayuth says his aim is to create conditions to allow fresh elections and a restoration of democratic rule by October of next year."

The Associated Press reports that Prayuth, 60, is due to retire from the army next month and until then will hold both positions.

"Thursday's appointment appears aimed at keeping him at the helm as the military implements sweeping political reforms critics say are designed to purge the ousted ruling party's influence and benefit an elite minority that has failed to win national elections for more than a decade."

"'He could have refused the job, but what would be the point?' said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai professor of Southeast Asian studies at Japan's Kyoto University.

"'If he wasn't prime minister, he would have been manipulating the prime minister from behind the scenes,' said Pavin, whose passport was revoked after he criticized the coup and refused to respond to a junta summons ordering him home."

In an article in The Bangkok Post headlined, "After vote, Prayuth gives coy smile," the general is quoted as saying he had not been approached prior to being nominated on Thursday.

"I only want ... the country to move forward," he told the English-language daily.

Last month, the country's ailing 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej approved a junta-authored provisional constitution, the 19th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. In it, the ruling military council, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO, maintains near complete control.

Prayuth staged a May 22 coup against Prime Minster Yingluck Shinawatra, who, like her older brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by the military despite landslide election victories. May's putsch marked the 12th time in 82 years that Thailand's military has seized the reins of government.

Ahead of Thursday's vote, The Wall Street Journal reported that Prayuth had promised the new constitution would be the second phase of a three-step program of overhauling the country's politics:

"That plan focuses on eradicating corruption and promoting good governance and a proper checks-and-balances system.

"The junta will be in charge of security affairs and provide advice and recommendations to the new government, Gen. Prayuth said earlier.

"Political analysts predicted that the general himself may take the position of prime minister. 'I think it's going to be a spoils system. Prayuth's loyalists will get nice postings [in the cabinet],' said Paul Chambers, a professor and military analyst at Thailand's Chiang Mai University."

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Duuuuuuude! Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson explore the whimsical fun of petty tyranny in Let's Be Cops. (Twentieth Century Fox)

'Let's Be Cops,' But Then What?

Aug 21, 2014 (Kaiser Health News)

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[This piece contains plot details from Let's Be Cops. It is not a movie about its plot details, but there you have it.]

The word is out on the buddy comedy Let's Be Cops, starring Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson - both enormously charming actors on Fox's New Girl. And what is the word? That the movie is not good, and the movie is rather atrociously timed, given that we are not in a place in the news cycle where people are enormously amused by stories about goofball police officers threatening people with nonfunctioning guns.

It's all true: the movie is not good. It's full of nasty cultural caricatures and has perhaps the most conventionally structured third act imaginable, in which our heroes overcome their limitations and triumph and a couple of Russian bad guys get what's coming to them. And it's atrociously timed - unless, of course, you think it's perfectly timed.

The first act of Let's Be Cops introduces Ryan (Johnson) and Justin (Wayans) as men in the circumstances movies and television continue to find more fascinating than any other: they are men who feel like they are unsuccessful at being men. Justin is undercut at work and terrified to pursue the girl of his dreams. Ryan is washed-up and lost, humiliated by even little kids believing he's not worth anything. They are very different men: Ryan is extroverted, goofy, childlike; Justin is quiet, easily embarrassed, serious. But they have the same problem: utter powerlessness. No status. No respect.

And when they find themselves strolling down the street in police costumes (there's some hand-waving about how somehow everything they're wearing is totally real, except that the guns, while real, don't fire), they discover what it's like to bully strangers because you can. They discover what it's like to be a powerless man, frustrated by having no status and no sex life and nobody who just for heaven's sake does what you say, and suddenly find that you can frivolously, needlessly, capriciously holler at someone in the street and he will literally feel so compelled to comply that he'll fly off his skateboard and hurt himself.

They learn - Ryan especially - that other people's blind obedience is intoxicating. They have learned what it feels like to have power. Or, really, what it means to have authority. Finally, the world around him is doing what he damn well tells it to do. Justin learns the same. He can give orders just to give orders. Make guys he thinks are jerks stand and dance for him. Make them humiliate themselves.

It's not enough that they stand on the street practicing the fine art of "because I said so" policing, cracking up when people stop on the street just because they're told to. They also are eyeballed hungrily by all manner of women and, because it's the least ridiculous way the filmmakers could think of to justify the implication of sex on demand as a side benefit of being a police officer, a group of giggling women on a "scavenger hunt" that requires kissing a cop run up and literally hurl themselves at Ryan and Justin.

This is the premise of the movie: If a man - here, two men - found themselves powerless and unrecognized and disrespected, wouldn't it be hilarious if they took on the authority of law enforcement so that they could whimsically push around strangers, take out their negative feelings about their bosses on people who make the mistake of being on the street, commander cars for no reason except that they said so, and hoodwink women into making themselves available?

Wouldn't that be hilarious?

There is a moment in Let's Be Cops in which Ryan shows Justin the completely convincing fake police car he's created - vehicle from eBay, lights he added himself, police logos he printed at Kinko's and smoothed on until you can't tell the difference between this car and a real car. This scene is played for humor, for the way Justin is the "I don't know, man" friend, the one who thinks maybe this is all going too far, because maybe they're going to get in trouble.

To me, this was a scene of pure menace, about as lighthearted as watching a comedy where one of the heroes was building a dungeon to chain up women in response to his difficulty getting a date. The concept of a man in possession of a convincing police car is terrifying. I wanted to find it funny, I really did. These are two of my favorite actors on TV. I wanted to be with them, to understand that at another time in another place, it really would have been funny.

But it made me think about all the conversations we've had in recent days about what different people's encounters with the police feel like; how the police are friendly, perhaps overly stern fellows to some people and dangerous to others. Perhaps a fake police car is a hilarious idea to Luke Greenfield and Nicholas Thomas, who wrote this movie; to me, it's a point of no return where only a conclusion that satirized how easily authority (of any kind) can be abused could have saved the movie. It could still have been funny, but it would have had to be darkly funny, funny in a way that ended with Ryan locked up.

That's not where they're going with this.

Instead, the only lesson they really learn about this being unfair and wrong is that it's unfair to real cops. Rob Riggle plays such a real cop, who befriends the two along the way and who, at one point, must necessarily express his deep disappointment that they've dishonored the uniform by putting it on fraudulently. He takes offense. They feel chided. This is a moment of seriousness; it is a moment in which men become men. They become men, in short, by wanting to live up to the expectations of other powerful men. For this, for dishonoring real cops, they must apologize. They must make amends. This is the climactic moment of the film in its capacity as a feel-good story about two guys growing up.

Never do they feel embarrassed, and never are they upbraided, and never do they apologize, for going into houses where frightened people have called 911 and pretending to be responding police officers. Never are they embarrassed about the people whose cars they stole, whose pot they smoked, whose evenings they interrupted, just to feel powerful. Over the credits, we're shown more of those things, because those things are still funny. To become men, they are asked to deserve the status they pretended to have, not to recognize the wrongs they did with it. They are revealed as counterfeiters and frauds, thieves of status that others deserve, not bullies and criminals. It is their presumptuousness that must be atoned for.

And in the end, they get what they wanted: Justin gets the girl, Ryan gets approval and a sense of accomplishment, and they both have the power they initially lacked. By pushing around strangers, by experimenting with power, and then by being shamed by another, higher-status man and wanting to make him proud, they have become men. They have grown up.

Ryan still drives all over the sidewalk like a moron forcing people to jump out the way, of course, but - spoiler alert - now he's a real cop. So now it's totally okay. He has, as he was ordered to do earlier, earned it

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