Monthly Archives: June 2009

High-Priced Escorts?

This Bites

Did you hear the one about the convicted murderer, an elderly female prisoner with breast cancer? How many prison guards did it take to provide an escort to her chemotherapy appointment?

In California, the rumored punchline is: FOUR.

A little bird, albeit not a jailbird, dropped this tidbit in the Blue Dog’s dish. Can’t vouch for the veracity of the information, but if true, this has to be a candidate for the  annual “$72,000 Government Toilet Seat Awards.”

We already know the sweet arrangement the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) has going. Sure we need to respect, protect and fairly compensate our prison guards, who no doubt have phenomenally difficult and thankless jobs. But this type of story may hint at why California needs what — 30,000 prison guards and a budget some three times that of a state like Texas? And if true, this quadruple burly escort service for old ladies — even if it would happen to be a mass murderer like Dorothea Puente — would seem obvious overkill. Are these the policies written into contracts from which California cannot escape?

While a card-carrying member of Amnesty International who is all for humane treatment of inmates, the BlueDog is compelled to ask if we’ve taken things too far. Do prisoners receive better healthcare than the working poor or even the middle class? Is their food service of higher quality than the lard and dough we feed our school kids? (A produce company has complained to the BlueDog that inmates are mandated to receive top grade fruits and veggies.)

Perhaps above all else, the moderate faction abhors the imprisonment of common sense and balance. Prison reform is a massively complex matter requiring a lot of legal maneuvering. But there’s a simple way to have your voice heard — either regarding questionable corrections or other agency expenditures: report it to Governor Schwarzenegger’s Waste Watchers Program.

After all, this is your government. And the time is ripe for speaking out.

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Filed under California Legislature, Politics, Reform

Docs’ Eye View of Healthcare Reform

Pay AttentionBefore mowing on a tasty Father’s Day dinner of BBQ spareribs, grilled corn and summer salad, the BlueDog posed the following question to his own father and brother-in-law, Mayo and Cleveland Clinic-trained Central Valley physicians with a combined 103-years of experience in American medicine:

If you could wave a wand and fix the healthcare system in the United States, what would you do?

Here is what they said. Bear in mind, these are fiercely opinionated and incredibly intelligent, ethical doctors who entered medicine as a calling and out of a love for medicine. They are on the far downside of their careers. They have no turf they need to protect.  They aren’t being paid to defend anyone’s position, including the AMA’s. [“Too many doctors nowadays think MD stands for much dough,” my brother-in-law even lamented.]. They just speak bluntly, as doctors often do, about how things should be. It’s about as pure a viewpoint you can get these days. You might be surprised at their views:

(1) The delivery system should be a single payer system -think Medicare for everyone – but run by a quasi-governmental organization such as the Federal Reserve, Tennessee Valley Authority or Base Closure Commission with strong input from respected professionals and medical economists and a minimum number of politicians.

(2) Cost containment is key and depends on properly placed provider incentives for efficiency – that is, (a) budgets negotiated with large physician run, cohesive, integrated multispecialty medical groups with strong leadership and experience in utilization review and quality assessment (there are many now in existence – Mayo’s, Cleveland Clinic, Sutter, Kaiser, etc., most participating in HMOS), (b) avoid physician-owned facilities and (c) negotiate a national drug formulary.

(3) Evidence-based medicine. Define quality using the most recent information from data-based medical studies. Require, as much as possible, that treatments and diagnostic procedures are in line with current standards as determined by professionals.

(4) Systems should be funded by a pay-as-you-go, transparent, fund from visible personal and business taxes, which over time would replace all or most of present private premiums. This should not be funded from general tax revenue. A reasonable administrative cost allowed, perhaps not over 5 percent. Commercial insurance would remain only is a supplemental form, covering deductibles and co-pays as is now allowed in Medicare.

(5) A federal cap on pain-and-suffering awards for malpractice. Experience in several states, including California suggests it lowers malpractice premiums.

When the BlueDog’s father speaks to community groups and seniors, he defines socialized medicine for them and asks if they are in favor of it. No hands are raised. But when he asks how many like Medicare, all hands go up. “This is socialized medicine,” he tells them. “And it basically works.”

So consider the source of these reforms. Two big-brained guys who have committed their lives to medicine and medical economics. No axes to grind. No skin in the game anymore. Just a passionate wish for medicine to be much more than it is today . . . in the richest nation on earth.

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Hating Conditional Outrage Over Hate

dog_snarling

A core moderate value is fair play. We bristle at double standards and identity politics. The PC Thought Police are getting on our nerves, and we wish they’d burn their energy pursuing culprits of an under-appreciated and highly insidious crime: Hypocrisy. Nothing rankles us more than when one person or group conveniently operates two sets of books – one for them, and one for everybody else.

Or, as Sacramento’s civil and measured morning AM radio duo of Armstrong & Getty so beautifully call it: exercising “conditional outrage.”

On this front, we’ve had a lot of fodder the past few weeks both in Sacramento and nationally.

Across the fruited plains, the Blue Dog has noted a surprising number of blanket accusations being tossed around by liberal commentators (especially Paul Krugman) in the New York Times that the conservative media is somehow responsible for the violent murders of a Kansas abortion doctor and a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum.

Really?

The Blue Dog never bought into the liberal media conspiracy, and he’s not buying into this mush-headed attack on conservative pundits either.  These killers are hateful, ignorant whack jobs. Period. If we’re really playing this sophomoric blame game, then we will have to blame liberals for the breakdown of the American family, the welfare state, AIDS, drug abuse and teen pregnancy.

The latter topic, of course, serves as a rather tidy transition to the David Letterman controversy.  The comedian’s foot-in-mouth joke about the promiscuity of Gov. Sarah Palin’s daughter(s) has been fascinating to watch, especially how it raised some interesting challenges to women’s groups, who one imagines weren’t exactly walking precincts for her in November.

While the Blue Dog doesn’t think much of Palin and is a lifelong Letterman fan, personal favorites or what side of the partisan boundary one is on should be irrelevant. The comedic Hoosier deservedly ended up in the crosshairs because he crossed way over. That was obvious. But what wasn’t so self-evident was how strong a backlash he would get. To its credit, the National Organization for Women (NOW) eventually stood up by inducting Letterman into the NOW Hall of Shame.

As an aside, did anyone notice if the City of San Francisco is now moving to become a Letterman Free Zone? Has the California Legislative Women’s Caucus put together a resolution to show their solidarity with the Palins?

Didn’t think so. If the joke had been doled out by a conservative about a Democrat’s gay or transgender child, the outrage meter would have broken the needle compared to what Letterman is getting.

Which helps make the point: Respect and common decency isn’t about right or left or middle. It should transcend all those artificial labels. Situational rules are confusing, hypocritical and ultimately a disservice to serious, legitimate issues.

We may wonder why President Obama gets a free pass on gay marriage, but the former Miss California is held in contempt and is fair game for her views when they basically mirror Obama’s. Shouldn’t she be accorded the same respect as the transgender community, which was on the receiving end of a recent Sacramento shock jock attack?

Although their formats and subject matter differ, why is Letterman merely a comic, but Rush Limbaugh somehow the voice of an entire party – and not simply the bombastic entertainer he really is? And if the N word is as despicable as the Blue Dog was raised to believe (the most offensive word in the English language his parents always told him), then shouldn’t it be so across the board?

Outrage becomes suspect the very moment we start hedging, making exceptions, parsing and partitioning our outrage to fit one given ideology, ethnicity or lifestyle.  It cheapens the respect we all ought to have for one another.

If we can’t figure this out and live by the Golden Rule, then we need to pass a law that says even feeble attempts at humor cannot be considered hate crimes.

If we can’t figure this out as human beings, we need to make every joke or comment about any subject socially acceptable again. Get respectful, or get thicker skin.

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Race to the Bottom

Pay AttentionAs hard as this may be to fathom, a few other states are competing with California for the distinction of most screwed up state.

It’s a Gong Show out there.

Illinois has given us a former well-coifed idiot of a governor accused of selling a U.S. Senate seat. Blogo’s wife is now putting food on her family’s table and paying for legal counsel by eating tarantulas on reality TV. Florida will feel eternal shame for the infamous hanging chad incident.

But according to Gail Collins in a recent New York Times column, New Yorkers are grousing THEY  have the worst government — While California quietly sinks in a sea of  almost quaint Alfred. E. Newman “What, me worry?” incompetence and stubborn ideological warfare, New York’s sports a different variety of dysfunction — scandal, absurdity and partisan musical chairs.

Here’s some of the juicy stuff pulled from her column about the goings on in the Albany statehouse:

* Two Senate Democrats defected to the Republican side of the aisle, throwing things into chaos. (One recently bounced back, tying everything up in knots)

* One of these fine gents is “about to go on trial for domestic violence . . . I can’t tell you how inspiring it is to see the fate of the legislative agenda hinging on a person who is under indictment for stabbing his girlfriend with a broken glass.”

* The only happy campers have been reporters, “who have not seen anything this interesting since Gov. Eliot Spitzer was driven out of office in that sex scandal and [now Governor] Paterson marked his succession by calling a press conference to confess he had cheated on his wife.”

Collins goes on to talk about besotted bathing-suit-wearing Louisiana lawmakers being dragged back to the Baton Rouge state house by state troopers a few years back. She reminds us of Pennsylvania legislators giving themselves four years ago an enormous pay raise at 2 a.m. [They now have a curfew for legislative sessions].

But New York, she says, is working overtime to earn the distinction as worst state government.

Collins never mentioned California. Not once.

Should we feel comforted by this omission; that our bleak situation is flying under the radar and that things aren’t really so bad after all?

Or insulted by another demeaning East Coast slight to the Left Coast?

The Blue Dog will flip a coin on that one.

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npr: National Prosperous Radio

Bone While we watch helplessly as many newspapers struggle to stay afloat, it is encouraging to know that at least one serious purveyor of in-depth news is thriving: National Public Radio.

Before anyone tries to gore the station as a bastion of liberalism, consider  independent market data that draws a very different and eyebrow-raising conclusion: 34 percent of NPR listeners define themselves as conservatives. That’s nearly equal to the 37 percent who say they tilt far left. The rest, or 29 percent, say they are middle of the road (us blue doggies).  

An NPR insider explained there remains a strong appetite among the radio’s demographic (typically college-educated with good incomes) for substantive programming regardless of their political viewpoint. And just for fun, even if it were it to be documented that NPR is massively liberal in its content, wouldn’t this suggest conservatives are more open-minded than liberals? After all, can you imagine 34-percent of The O’Reilly Factor viewers identifying themselves as liberals?

But we’re chasing a tangent. What is fascinating about NPR is that it is running counter to the trend we’re seeing with the Incredible Shrinking Attention Span (ISAS) throughout our society. Get this: There actually are people out there who prefer five and ten-minute segments as opposed to 30-second snippets . . . People who are gravitating to calm, thoughtful voices rather than the political rants and raves that infect the AM band and the cable TV talk shows.

And while the downturn in the economy has impacted corporate underwriting, the Blue Dog is told that donations from listeners are way up, as is the overall listenership locally, statewide and nationally, which has seen a 47-percent jump in the past seven years. More than 34 million people listen to NPR each week. More people tune in to “Morning Edition” than watch NBC’s “Today Show.” And can  you wrap your mind mind around the fact NPR has more bureaus (38) nationwide than CNN?

In Sacramento, Capital Public Radio’s KXJZ 90.9 FM has catapulted from the 16th ranked station in market to number two, only behind KFBK, according to Arbitron ratings comparing Fall of 2005 with the same time frame last year. Listenership has nearly doubled in that time. It is remarkable that contributions from just 10-15 percent of its listeners can sustain the enterprise. 

Some media watchers toy with the idea of developing a similar non-profit funding model for the newspaper industry. Free it from the shackles of Wall Street. That may be a stretch, but certainly anything should be on the table to save print or transition it safely to digital terra firma. Should we get to that point, the Blue Dog will be first in line with a contribution. In the meantime, stay tuned in to public radio.

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It Could Be Worse

 

A Snooze While there can be no state in the union more dysfunctional than California, we can rest easier and take heart in the goings on in South Carolina, where Governor Mark Sanford is fighting, of all things, federal stimulus funds. You read correctly — he is refusing to accept a $700 million (quaint by our standards, but with a potential to rise to as much as $3 billion ultimately) over the objections of the Columbia statehouse, which says it (not the Governor) have authority over the matter. The squabble is heading to the Palmetto State’s Supreme Court, and it looks like Sanford will get the short end of the stick.

For political observers here it is interesting to note that Sanford is largely seen as posturing for a national run and sees his ideological stand as a way to pander to the hard right. The Governor claims the money will bloat programs and create more government he won’t be able to sustain when federal funds disappear. Glenn McConnell, the Republican president of the state legislature, told Wall Street Journal that : “I believe politically he’s already moved beyond the state of South Carolina.” 

Outside of being hit by a plague of locusts, this is about the only fiasco or brand of gridlock that hasn’t befallen Sacramento. It also reflects on the relative sanity of Governor Schwarzenegger, who has welcomed the aid and sees the federal government as an ally. Just imagine if Tom McClintock were our governor. 

Oh yeah, there is another splinter of inspiration we can pull from our brothers in SC and it’s not drawn from Hootie & the Blowfish. Rather, the state motto: Dum Spiro Spero — “While I breathe, I hope.” . . . Here’s to California’s iron lung.

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