Tag Archives: California Blue Dog

Can We Bottle All That Phony Hysteria?

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As California prepares to turn loose tens of thousands of prisoners, extreme factions of the Legislature and activist groups are getting all lathered up about – get this – the supposed hazards of shatter-proof baby bottles (which incidentally have likely saved countless lives by preventing young children from choking to death).

As David Letterman would say: “I’m not making this up.”

Activist groups today are planning to adorn the State Capitol grounds with a 15-foot baby bottle as a PR stunt to push for Senate Bill 797 (Pavley), which would create the Toxin-Free Infants & Toddlers Act.

[Full Disclosure: The Blue Dog is working with opponents to kill this ridiculous bill]

In essence, SB 797 would ban a chemical known as Bisphenol-A (BPA) from baby bottles and other drinking containers used by children three and under. This would be a necessary and commendable goal if there were any serious science underlying the concern. Trouble is, even the state agency lauded by the environmentalists, doesn’t even see any reason for concern.

A scientific advisory board of The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) recently determined that BPA doesn’t even belong on the state’s Prop. 65 list of known carcinogens. Even wine and beer are on this list – but not BPA. Specifically, July 15 OEHHA’s Development and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee (DARTIC) unanimously voted NOT TO ADD BPA to the Proposition 65 list.

The Committee – consisting of experts from several California universities spanning a wide range of relevant scientific disciplines – serves as the “State’s Qualified Experts” for determining whether a chemical has been clearly shown, through scientifically valid testing according to generally accepted principles, to cause reproductive or developmental toxicity. If the state’s scientific experts do not believe products containing BPA deserve even a warning label, how is an outright ban warranted?

And the irony here gets quite tasty. Last month some of the proponents of SB 797 lobbied against the agency’s possible elimination, touting OEHHA as leaders in protecting public health through independent scientific research. They sent out press releases and wrote opinion pieces going to bat for the agency.

Now, when science-based policy doesn’t support activist driven policy, OEHHA’s science advisory board becomes the focus. Activists are now pouting that the “committee is made up of political appointees who do not necessarily have the research and science background best-suited to interpret cutting-edge science, as evidenced by this decision.”

So let’s get this straight: last month OEHHA worth saving from the budget ax, but this month the agency is being advised by political appointees who don’t have the expertise to make these decisions? Please, give us all a break.

The SB 797 special interests have also got to be annoyed with our northern neighbors and friends across the pond. After all, the U.S. activists love to fawn all over the EU and Canada when it comes to their chemical policies. So the following facts must also be hard for them to swallow:

  • Just last month, Health Canada released studies of BPA in infant formula and baby food containers and concluded “Based on the overall weight of evidence, as described in the Health Risk Assessment of BPA from food packaging applications, the results of this survey further confirms Health Canada’s previous assessment conclusion that the current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the consumer
  • Regulatory agencies in the EU, Japan, United Kingdom and Australia/New Zealand have looked at BPA as used in these applications and have not issued any restrictions.  Do we assume that those regulatory agencies are made up of unqualified political appointees too?
  • Finally, SB 797 flies in the face of the Green Chemistry initiative – the Governor and Legislature’s landmark measure to take chemical policy out of the hands of Legislators and into the hands of state scientists.

Why is a bill like this even circulating?

Pavely is a teacher and land use expert. Most, if not all of her colleagues have no serious scientific credentials. I don’t believe there is a toxicologist among them. Yeah, tree-tall baby bottles may make for snappy PR events and great TV news, but if you look inside this big bottle all you will see is special interest scare tactics and specious science.

Meanwhile, how about those freed inmates?

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461 Days & Counting

Bone


While the BlueDog has been away for the past few weeks tending to some family matters, he has been keeping mental notes of things we will be catching up on in the next few posts: juicy hypocrisy, the elevated status of moderates in DC and, if we can stomach it, our new state budget.

Today let’s circle back on a wonderful cover story in the New York Times Magazine a few Sundays ago profiling the 2010 race for California governor. Not only is it a great, albeit highly subjective, read, it provides a refreshing and sharp brand of insight that only a perceptive outsider can offer.  How Mark Leibovich, a reporter in the paper’s Washington bureau, and his editors, portrayed the candidates was fascinating, as was the respective candidate views on Governor Schwarzenegger and California’s battered condition. CalBuzz weighed in a while back with its take on the story. Here are some of the BlueDog’s top-line impressions from the article (in alphabetical order):

Jerry Brown: Comes across as the elder statesman. A far cry from the Moonbeam days. “An unlikely grown-up in the field, Jerry Brown recently dubbed himself as the Apostle of Common Sense . . .  Brown delights in deflating overblown rhetoric,” Leibovich writes.

Tom Campbell: Glowing appraisal of his resume [“immaculately credentialed policy marvel”] and his stance as a socially liberal Republican with strong acumen in government finance. “The perception lingers that he will be seriously outgunned” but could benefit from the entry of a social conservative candidate, who would siphon support away from Whitman and Poizner.

Dianne Feinstein: While not a focus of the story, the Senator’s towering presence was mentioned in passing. No insight into her plans, just the usual: If she gets in the race, she is the immediate front runner.

Gavin Newsom: Suprisingly big play for the SF mayor. He garners a nice cover photo as the “Gavinator.” Inside he gets similar star treatment with another full-page photo on the beach. You’d think he was the heir apparent to Arnold judging from all the fawning and attention. In terms of content, the SF Mayor’s struggle with dyslexia humanizes him in an endearing way. But he ultimately comes across as a flakey lightweight trying to claim he isn’t a liberal. A description of a Newsom visit to the Central Valley is pretty comical. And the fact Newsom (he who reigns over the self-proclaimed greenest city on earth) zooms away in a gas guzzling SUV is a classic image.

Steve Poizner: Strolling through what appears to be the Capitol Rose Garden, Poizner’s photo is flattering and he looks like a governor. But Leibovich suggests that he is dead in the water. “Poizner faces many obstacles. For starters, he is the state’s insurance commissioner (bookish, with a beakish nose) and is little-known, and his name sounds like poison.”  Ouch. That hardly seemed necessary.

Meg Whitman:  While she got a fair amount of ink, Whitman was the only one of the five profiled candidates with no photo in the story. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Unless the former queen of eBay declined a photo session, this was a major slight and an inexcusable omission.  After all, she is the only woman in the race, and many consider her a highly formidable candidate. Like Poizner, she was the recipient of snide editorial comment. It’s not like the NYT is going to decide the 2010 election but she got glaringly short shrift; her campaign consultants should still be steaming at the treatment. NYT editors should know better.

A winner on this early national media stage?

Newsom if you just glanced at the pictures and scanned the piece; Brown and Campbell if you were looking for substance and took time to read the story. Come to think of it, the latter two would make for an interesting race in November. Brown has aged in way that appears to bring him closer to the center as a visionary pragmatist. Campbell brings many of those same qualities to the table as a seasoned, moderate Republican.

But take time to read the piece and decide for yourself. By the way, no one really answered the big question boasted in headline: Why do the candidates want the job? We have 461 more days to find out.

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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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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

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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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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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No Moderate Is An Island

Pay AttentionSometimes, the Blue Dog would rather have someone else do the barking about the state of Moderate Nation. Some good mind chow in CNN.com’s “No One Represents America’s Center.”

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. . . Open Primary Makes a Baker’s Dozen

dog_withboneA Blue Dog reader with decades of experience inside the Capitol weighed in with another reform measure omitted in the 12 reforms mentioned in the last post. Here is what he says:

 “I think a lot of the reforms you mentioned would be helpful, but the key reform we need is the open primary.  Both of the parties are controlled by special interest groups so it is very difficult to win a partisan primary unless you are owned by them.  At least an open primary gives moderates of both parties a real shot.  It also helps make members from now safe districts a little more responsible since they could face a November election running against a member of their own party.  A little fear and/or respect of the voters would further help the system.”

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Humor Upon the Gallows

dog_withboneThe worse things get, the more we apparently rely on humor to survive. The fallout from yesterday’s vote and sudden momentum pushing California’s  death spiral into oblivion has brought about an unexpectedly large dose of humor from several anonymous CalBlueDog readers. One offered some creative ways to generate revenue. Another  a way to make difficult cuts. Another sent along a photo capturing some of yesterday’s carnage. Yes the sky is falling, but we might as well chuckle before it crashes down on our heads: 

*Revenue from Naming Rights: “The Legislature ought to start selling ad space and naming rights in the Capitol and at the various state agencies to raise money.” Here are some ideas:

– The Cache Creek State Capitol Dome (with Neon Sign instead atop for an extra Billion) . . . The Kaiser-Permanente Department of of Public Health . . .  The Chevron Department of Conservation . . . the Waste Management Integrated Waste Management Board . . . The Pfizer Assembly Committee on Health . . .  The ACLU Assembly Committee on Public Safety . . . The Senate Judiciary Committee brought to you by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association . . . The Toyota Air Resources Board . . . The Sierra Club Senate Committee on Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials . . . The  CTA Assembly Committee of Education . . . The SEIU Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee . . . The Disney Assembly Committee on Water, Parks & Wildlife . . . The State Farm Assembly Committee on Insurance . . . the Wells Fargo Senate Committee on Banking, Finance & Insurance . . .  

Budget Cuts from Survivor Alcatraz: Another reader suggests taking all state agency and department heads and putting them on Alcatraz Island, where they must fend for themselves, their departments and make a case for their respective programs. Arnold’s Hollywood friends can produce the episodes pro bono and Californians can tune in to make the hard decisions by voting programs and public servants off the island. We can follow it up with a Series: Survivor: Catalina involving legislators. The state could reap millions in TV broadcast revenue from advertisers; if the program goes nationwide, we get the royalties. 

Eyewitness to Carnage: Finally, this photo came over the transom. 

SS STEINBERG RIP

While the shot unfairly singles out Senator Steinberg, the Blue Dog imagines there are plenty more boats sinking with other names, including a large vessel called the S.S. Capitol.  The Blue Dog thanks his readers, and welcomes more antics as he gears up for more serious fare . . . “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

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Think Small, Californians

Bone They say takers eat well, but givers sleep well. Maybe it’s time we start focusing more on our sleep. 

Given the enormity of the challenges facing California, it is easy to become fatalistic and cynical. The problems are so daunting and our leadership so dysfunctional that it leaves us feeling totally helpless and impotent. Perhaps we should adapt a new personal survival strategy: downsize our expectations of government/others and demand more from ourselves. 

Yeah, its easy to rail on the status quo and bark for reform. The BlueDog will continue to howl, attracting a growing cadre of like-minded California moderates in the process. But for today, let’s focus on pointing the finger at ourselves. What can we do to improve our own little corners of the world? The people we encounter as we go about our lives? How can we assume more personal responsibility for our fellow man?

There are a zillion things we can do that don’t involve giving money or too much of your time:  

* Donate clothes, furniture and appliances to charities. Donations are down and demand is up at local thrifts.

* Spend some time talking to a friend or acquaintance who has lost a job. Ask what you can do to help.

* Be a considerate driver

* Turn off the Blackberry and spend genuine time with your kid.

* Stop cursing. 

* Instead of scorn, indifference or subsidizing an addiction with loose change, look a homeless person in the eye and say hello. Better yet, extend yourself and buy him or her a sandwich.

* Pick up somebody else’s litter or trash.

* And because the BlueDog can’t resist: Maybe we should call for a freeze on all pending legislation for a year. In the meantime, requiring all legislators and their staffs to leave the Capitol so they can apply all their state-paid time to doing something tangible and meaningful in their communities — instead of being marginalized by a process that encourages division, problem-creation, mediocrity and gridlock. One would think that a more gratifying application of public service. 

If we did any one of these things every day, California’s collective soul might lift us out of the morass in some weird, cosmic way. At the very least, we would all sleep a bit better . . . even as California burns itself to the ground.

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