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Addressing extremism among veterans

 January 4, 2023 at 5:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Debbie Cruz….it’s Wednesday, January fourth. >>>>

The struggle to address extremism among military vets. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….

The state Department of Water Resources conducted their first snow survey of the season in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Sean de Guzman manages the survey. He said the snowpack is better than this time last year, but it doesn’t eliminate drought concerns.

"We must continue to remain vigilant and continue to conserve water. No single storm event will end. The drought will need consecutive storms, you know, month after month, after month of above average rain, snow and run off to help really refill our reservoirs." 

The upcoming storms are predicted to be colder than the recent ones and should increase the snowpack levels.

A new report reveals that in 20-21 law enforcement officers in the state were more than twice as likely to use force against people they perceived as Black during vehicle and pedestrian stops, compared to people believed to be white.

Those perceived as Black and Hispanic or Latino were also more likely to be stopped in the first place.

The report was compiled by California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board to better understand bias in policing. It analyzed vehicle and pedestrian stops from fifty-eight agencies including the San Diego County Sheriff and San Diego Police departments.

San Diego County had its second highest average price per gallon of gas to begin a year on Sunday.

That’s despite a recent run of decreases for over a month and a half.

The first highest average price to start a year was last year when it was nearly $4.63

And yesterday the average price in the County was four dollars and fifty four cents.

From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

Friday, January sixth, will mark two years since the insurrection at the U-S Capitol. More than ten percent of the people charged with crimes in the attack are military veterans. But policymakers are still struggling to address violent extremism among some members of the veteran community.

Steve Walsh reports for the American Homefront Project.

In the Congressional session that ended in December, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs looked at extremism and white supremacy among veterans. At times, the hearings themselves highlighted how difficult the conversation remains. Some GOP members lashed out at the premise, including Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana. “Mr. Chairman, I think this hearing is offensive and the fact that you’re going to save our veterans from being political terrorists is offensive to every veteran in America, I yield.” But the number of veterans linked to extremism has been rising, though it's still a tiny percentage of the veteran community. 118 people with military backgrounds face charges related to the January 6 insurrection. California Democrat Mark Takano was Committee Chair. “It is a small number. We need to be able to raise this issue without being subject to the claim that we're trying to paint all veterans or characterize all veterans as extremists, that veterans are unstable.” The committee called on the VA to work more closely with the Department of Defense to curb extremism among veterans. But Takano concedes that will be a challenge. “It's a very delicate place that VA has to be in, in terms of they're the government, they're the federal government. Looks like they're kind of intrude into the realm of the veterans' beliefs. Are trying to change that veteran's beliefs. That's not gonna work.” Competing definitions make it more difficult to take action. Max Erdemandi is a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland. He was one of the authors of a paper in the November issue of the Journal of Applied Communication Research - which looked at how the military and veterans groups talk about extremism. “Not every extremist is a terrorist and believing in extremist ideologies does not make an individual as terrorists.” They found the White House, Homeland Security and the Department Defense each have their own definitions of extremism, which were different from the FBI. After the Insurrection, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered a stand down among all troops to talk about extremism. “There was really no measure of success. Like that's also an issue with a lot of government led extremism and terrorism prevention policies. There are no measures of success, right? It is very subjective.” Nick Mararac is another of the paper's authors. Asian American and gay, he graduated from the Naval Academy in 2007 … and says extremism is nothing new in the military. He remembers an incident on one of his first ships. “Someone pulled a knife on me. They were like, sharpening their knife in front of me, as if to intimidate me.” Mararac is now a linguist who studies the language used by the military and veteran community around extremism. Though, reports from the Department of Defense say the problem is rare: “I’m not really sure that squares with my experience in the military. And I would argue that perhaps that some of these folks that are coming into the military already ascribe to these ideological views. It’s not like they come in and the military fosters this culture.” Some veterans don't fall prey to extremism until after they leave the service. Groups like the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters - who were involved in the insurrection - actively recruit veterans. Advocates say the military could do more to help troops resist those appeals. Akilah Templeton runs Veterans Village of San Diego, which assists veterans experiencing homelessness and problems with substance abuse.“That transition, right, so coming out of the military and entering back into society, it’s really hard. So when a person is unable to make a smooth transition, they’re more susceptible to these types of things.” She says vets are pulled into violent extremism for the same reason that they can fall into substance abuse - job loss, family issues, isolation, military trauma, combined with a loss of purpose. And Templeton says groups like hers are not really getting guidance from the VA, on how to tackle the problem. In San Diego, I’m Steve Walsh

That story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

San Diego hospitals are preparing for a potential surge in COVID and flu admissions following the holidays. KPBS Health Reporter Matt Hoffman says local doctors aren’t expecting this year to be as bad as previous years.

If you look at it trendwise it’s good but we’re very guarded still because we’re not over the christmas or the new years. Kaiser San Diego’s assistant Chief of staff Dr. William Tseng is hopeful this winter won’t be like previous ones. The number of reported COVID cases isn’t comparable to this time last year and many San Diegans have protection from vaccines and prior infections. Dr. William Tseng, Kaiser Permanente San Diego: I think in general we’ve got 97% of the people have some form of protection either through vaccination or previous exposures but again i want to be guarded about it but see what happens in the next month and if everything is okay i think we’ve dodged a big one. Updated COVID and flu numbers will be released by the county later this week. Matt Hoffman, KPBS news.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against Southwest Airlines on behalf of two San Diego County residents whose tickets were canceled during the airline's scheduling system meltdown over the holidays.

The suit alleges that Southwest either knew or should have known that it would not be able to provide services as promised.

Consumer travel advocate and former airline executive Kurt Ebenhoch (ee-BEN-hock) says this was not a weather issue … but a failure of the airline for not upgrading their systems.

"There were warning signs of this developing over the past couple of years the warning signs were well known. Their own pilots were warning the company. The flight attendants were warning the company."

Alex Dychter is the attorney for the plaintiffs. He says his clients are looking for systemic change.

“My clients are very adamant of having a bolstered Passenger Bill of Rights. So when an airline does have staffing issues, does fail to book travel in a prudent, business-like manner, they do take care of the passengers and consumers in a proper way.” 

In a statement, Southwest Airlines says it is trying to do right for its customers by offering reimbursement for expenses, refunds and 25-THOUSAND frequent flyer miles to some customers.

A jury has awarded a former San Diego County Deputy public defender two-point-six-million-dollars in his wrongful termination lawsuit against the county. KPBS Reporter Amita Sharma has more on yesterday’s verdict.

The jury found San Diego County was responsible for past and future wage losses totaling $640,000 for ex-public defender Zach Davina. The panel also awarded him $2 million for emotional distress. The jury concluded the county public defender’s office fired Davina, who is gay, because of his gender expression…and for complaining about what he believed were racist comments made by a public defender supervisor toward a Black Latino colleague. Davina’s lawyer, Chris Ludmer. said he and his client were grateful the jury saw the truth in this case. “And held the county to account for its multiple violations of the employment laws, for their failure to prevent violations of the employment laws and for their obvious failed attempts to cover all of this up with false investigation reports.” The county did not respond to a request for comment on the verdict. Amita Sharma, KPBS News.

Coming up… Why India’s RRR was the most watched non-English film on Netflix. We’ll have that story and more, next, just after the break.

India consistently produces about twice as many films as the U.S. American audiences are starting to embrace those movies thanks to streaming services such as Netflix and Prime. The film RRR was in the top ten most watched Netflix movies back in May of last year. It’s now nominated for two Golden Globe awards and shortlisted for an Oscar.

It’s one of KPBS Cinema Junkie host Beth Accomando’s top ten films of 20-22. In the fall, she discussed the success of RRR with KPBS reporter Andrew Bowen and Yazdi Pithavala, co-host of the podcast Moviewallas.

That was Yazdi Pithavala, and Beth Accomando speaking with Andrew Bowen last fall.

RRR is being shown this week at San Diego’s Digital Gym Cinema as part of their “For Your Consideration” film series.

That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Debbie Cruz. Lara McCaffrey produced today’s podcast, thanks Lara. And thank you for listening! Have a great day!

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More than 10% of those charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol nearly two years ago were military veterans. Policymakers are struggling to address violent extremism among some members of the veteran community. Then, San Diego hospitals are preparing for a potential surge in COVID and flu admissions following the holidays. Local doctors are saying this surge won’t be as bad as previous years. And a lawsuit has been filed in San Diego against Southwest Airlines.