Saturday, May 28, 2016

Some Notes on the June 7 Butte County Primary Election...Montes and Teeter

Joe Montes
                                                                     Doug Teeter

This primary election season has been much more interesting than normal here in Butte County, California. It should be noted that Democratic registration is way up. In fact, about 1,000 more mail-in ballots have been sent to Butte County Democrats than Republicans. Despite the hoopla regarding Donald Trump supposedly bringing in more Republican voters, so far it seems that Bernie Sanders has had more of an impact in Butte County.

The last time Butte County went blue was in 2008, which was a very special year. Might we see a repeat in November?

And there have been way more letters-to-the-editor in favor of Joe Montes over Doug LaMalfa. Democrat Jim Reed has been absent from the Opinion pages. Despite that, the increased registration of Democratic voters should assure Jim Reed a slot in the November election. Might Joe Montes be the new challenger? Or maybe we will all be surprised and it will be a Montes versus LaMalfa runoff in November. Stay tuned.

Neither the Chico ER nor the Paradise Post have made an endorsement. The CNR predictably endorsed Reed. This is a race that most of us thought would be pretty boring that has turned out to furnish some excitement, complete with the usual dirty tricks by LaMalfa.

The Republican Party seems split on the matter. Republican Chair, Mike Zuccollillo sent out a mailer where he endorsed Montes over LaMalfa. He also complained regarding the use of mailers by LaMalfa which implied that the Butte County Republican Party had endorsed him. This is all very interesting.

The other race that is interesting in Butte County is the 5th Supervisor District. The Incumbent, Doug Teeter, read the tea leaves and registered as a Republican. He used to be an Independent and, in fact, got the endorsement from the Paradise Democratic Club back in 2012. This year he has a couple of Republican challengers, the most aggressive from Dianna Wright who is a prolific letter writer and Republican Gadfly. The problem is that Dianna Wright might split the Republican vote that Teeter so desperately seeks, throwing the election to Big Mo Huffman.

Huffman is running as a Democrat and the Dems have actually done some work this year. They have opened an office in Paradise and they have been reinvigorated by a couple of rowdy locals. With the increased voter Registration of the Dems (almost even in Paradise in mail-in vote ballots sent), the BERNIE effect, along with Dianna Wright splitting the Republican Teeter vote, just might make Big MO' Huffman's election possible.

Of course, Doug Teeter has been a good supervisor. He has done his homework and he is especially interested in protecting (and providing access to) Butte County's wild lands. Losing Teeter would be a shame because he deserves re-election. He should have stuck it out as an Independent and given up aligning himself with Doug LaMalfa in a mailer.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Yes on G: Yes on H

Measure A changed Butte County's unincorporated areas for the better. It began the process of reigning in an out-of-control, unregulated Cannabis Industry where any Felon or Greedhead from Ohio, could find a piece of land and make a million dollars within one season. And they could do that tax-free with the blessing of the county.

When the Greedheads ruled the rural areas of Butte County, all sorts of abuses occurred. For those of us who live out in the remote hills where many of the Cannabis Growers chose to hide out, we noticed immediate changes when they moved in en masse. The first thing I noticed was that I saw fewer critter tracks on hikes. And then a local felon who was released from jail purchased a bit of land and started growing pot. The land rush was on! Then I noticed the herd of deer, which numbered in the dozens, were gone. Then I noticed that the Red tailed hawk that used to inhabit a meadow near my home was gone. He probably died from rodenticide that the growers use voraciously.

Gun shots would ring out at night--probably taking out deer that strayed too close to a grow.

A Fish and Wildlife person told me that the tributaries of Lake Oroville have been destroyed by the Cannabis Farming. On a hike one day, way out in the middle of no-where, a small trickle of a seep from a spring had a pipe attached, leading it to a grow. Almost all the water sources were tapped in the rural areas illegally, to the detriment of wildlife. The MJ grows were everywhere. Millions of dollars were to be made! Wells were put in for commercial purchases and the Commercial Growers don't pay a nickel for the water. Meanwhile, the Fish and Wildlife Service report that the local fauna suffered from the water that was stolen to raise pot.

Frankly, it was a rape of the land akin to the Gold Rush days. Call it the Green Rush. These foothills, which really are the last decent habitat for anything wild in California, was under full assault by an industry that cared nothing for its impact on the land.

Then the voters of Butte County got smart and passed Measure A; things instantly got better. Many of the growers reduced their grows and also put them under plastic. Many growers left for greener pastures in other counties.  Gun shots during the night were greatly reduced. The amount of young, stoned kids at the swimming hole was reduced by half. These kids move out here for the growing season; fewer workers means fewer grows. All in all, I'd guess the grows in my area were reduced by fifty percent.

Civility improved in my rural area due to the Growers having to be a bit more friendly to their neighbors or they could be turned in (the rules as to who could report a grow had changed). The Growers weren't near as cavalier with their attitudes as they were prior to the passage of Measure A.

Now the County is back with more reforms. The first, Measure G, wants to make sure Cannabis isn't listed as a protected agricultural product. Of course, THC isn't wheat. And if you are growing pot to be your Pharmacy---the equivalent of Norco or Percocet, well, Norco isn't a crop and neither is your Cannabis. You will still be able to report the stench of a pot grow as a public nuisance if Cannabis isn't a protected agricultural product.

Measure H streamlines the collection of fines. Last year, the first for Measure A, a couple million dollars in fines were written, and through stonewalling, only a couple hundred thousand dollars were collected. The Greedheads still managed to grow their crop and skedaddle out of there to enjoy their profits before their day in court came due. Streamlining a code matter just makes sense. And it will help deter those who want to grow commercially and, if they do grow commercially, the County will be able to collect the fines faster.

Justice should be quick.

And so I am voting for Measure G and H. I will vote for it because the wildlife of Butte County can't vote for it. Neither the Red tailed hawk, nor the Pacific fisher, nor the eagle, nor the osprey, nor the black tailed deer, nor the otter, nor the eagle, nor the opossum, nor the jackrabbit, nor the bear, nor the skunk, nor the raccoon, nor the mountain lion, nor the martens, nor the salmon, nor the trout, nor the raccoon, nor the coyote, nor the fox----none of these animals that have been impacted by the Greedheads can vote. We have to be the voice of wildlife. Vote yes on G and H.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

In Defense of Opiates

"Ease their pain." That was the first, and best, nursing advice I've ever been given. It was given to me 25 years ago by a very wise Nurse Manager. That's how deep knowledge gets passed on in nursing: by the younger ones listening to the experience of the elders. Treating people's pain was important when I first became an RN.

No longer.

Easing people's pain has now been limited to ibuprofen and cannabis. Opiates are frowned upon due to the increase in suicides from opiate overdoses. However, in my experience, the suicide epidemic from opiates occurs from the UNDER treatment of pain and the ineffectiveness of pain management and NOT because of the opiate itself. I believe this current epidemic of heroin overdoses is a result of NOT treating pain properly. We are getting it wrong.

We don't have many arrows in our quiver when it comes to treating pain. And when it comes to treating severe pain, most of the arrows don't work. Yes, I know every Granola Guru thinks that Cannabis is the answer for everything from chronic pain to cancer, when in reality, cannabis can be helpful but it pales in comparison to an opiate.

A few years ago, a 300 pound homicidal Schizophrenic with command auditory hallucinations to kill people, hit me as hard as he could with his elbow. He broke a couple of my ribs, damaged a lung, and injured my back. The back injury resulted in something called Peri-Scapular Myofascial Pain Syndrome. It means that the area around my right scapula is in constant spasm and pain. The pain feels like a dozen hamsters are chewing on the muscles in my back. The feeling is similar to the sensation you would have if someone stuck a knife through your back and twisted it.

I've been in treatment for this injury for years. I've tried injections to cure it. All of the pain medications. Two different chiropractors. Massage. Nothing works long term.

Norco takes care of the pain.

Without Norco (an opiate) I couldn't function. Thankfully I have a Physician who understands me, has seen me through out this injury, and has the wit and the compassion to prescribe the medication to me despite the current pressure to no longer use opiates.

We used to believe that pain was the "Fifth Vital Sign". Now doctors are being harassed for prescribing opiates--even being threatened with jail. I have seen the consequences of this in my own practice. You see, I work outpatient as a Home Health Nurse. Nothing makes you feel more helpless than watching an elderly person suffer from the cessation of pain medication. They not only go through withdrawal but they lose function. And they suffer pain. I had one client who could walk when she had Norco; now she is wheelchair bound because her doctor refuses to prescribe it.

That's how to gauge the effectiveness of a pain regimen: does it increase activity and function. The same should be true when pain medication is withheld: if activity and function decreases, then the pain medication should be restored. Not to mention the compassionate aspect of  Easing Their Pain.

Life in capitalist America isn't easy for the majority of people who have to work for a living-- sometimes holding two or three jobs at the same time. Low wages and too many hours are causing injuries and wearing out workers. I don't believe the record use of pain medication and anti-depressants in the United States is caused by Big Pharma; I believe the record use of these drugs is caused by an economic system that is downright cruel to the poor, workers, and the oppressed. Percocet and Prozac have become the new opiates of the people (replacing religion, like Marx thought). We need the anti-depressants and the opiates just to summon the energy and pain relief to plod through the day. Getting old isn't easy. Working in America isn't easy. Rare is the elderly person who doesn't suffer from a bit of pain.

Over the past year, the toughest part of my job has been watching people suffer from the under treatment of pain. It has caused a near existential crises in me, as I watch people try and cope with the pronouncements of their Doctors that "We have to cut your pain medication down." Many live in fear every month that their Doctor will decide that treating their pain is no longer worth jeopardizing their license to practice medicine. Many consider suicide. Some have attempted it. Some have died.

It doesn't help when a celebrity, like Prince, dies from a probable Percocet OD. The knee jerk response is to blame the opiate and the use of them, resulting in the pressure to discontinue easing people's pain, which, in the long run, just ends in more overdoses, more pain, more suffering.

We have branded the person who suffers from Chronic Pain to be Drug Seeking Addicts if they use opiates.  They (or we, because I am one) have become second class citizens. We are punished by having to see a doctor every 30 days. Our scripts are given on a triplicate form that must be brought to the Pharmacy and not sent electronically like every other prescription. We must show an ID to pick up our medications and we have to make the trip to the pharmacy as the meds cannot be delivered.

People who suffer from Chronic Pain now wear a scarlet letter. The pendulum has swung too far. We need to Ease Their Pain.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Combine May Day with Naked Gardening Day!

For people like me, May Day just might as well be considered a High Holy Day. It is an Eco-Socialist's dream day. Too bad so few celebrate it. Although May Day has a rival now: May 2nd has been designated "Naked Gardening Day". That holiday should be scrapped and the nakedness should just be added to the May Day celebrations. Although Fidel Castro might not approve. Nor is imagining the old Politburo reviewing the military weapons parade in their birthday suits very appealing.

You can trace the Pagan holiday of Beltane back to herding and pastoralism of the Celtic people from pre-agriculture days thousands of years ago. They celebrated Beltane on May 1st. Modern day Pagans tend to be Earthy sorts of people and you can find them in Urban Bohemian areas building a bonfire on this evening. These Modern Day Pagans have a randy saying: "Hurray, Hurray, it is the First of May; Outdoor Fucking begins today."

That seems a whole lot more fun than spreading fertilizer and hoeing while naked in a garden.

It was a bit more innocent of a holiday when I was a child. We would make a May Basket and then find a person of the opposite sex with whom we were enamored. You then would leave the basket at their front door and ring the doorbell.

And then you ran away. The person who got the May Basket is supposed to chase you down and give you a kiss. This is a child's game that needs to come back into style.

But the reason why we really don't celebrate May Day properly is because of its connection with the struggle for an eight hour work day. For this I borrow from an article written in the IWW newsletter:

"On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public's eye."

May Day has its origins in the United States. It is a holiday for labor agitation. It is a holiday created by American Socialists, Communists and Anarchists. Later Brezhnev and company stole the holiday and used it for displaying their military might. They usurped an American tradition. May Day is as American as apple pie. Bring it back.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nine Years in the Mud Hut

Nine years.

It was nine  years ago today that I looked at this house. We put an offer in on it immediately. I slept on our deck that night in a sleeping bag, excited to be out in the "middle of nowhere".

Nine years is the longest I have ever lived anyplace since I left the nest at age 18. It takes the record by a longshot as, I think the longest I have lived in one house previous to this place was three years.

I like it here. Yes, the area has become much more settled with all the pot growers that have moved in. This is temporary and they will be gone when 1. it is legal everywhere and 2. Butte County continues to get strict about land use and ending the commercial cannabis business in decent wildlife habitat.

It has been quite an adventure. The girls hate it here. Joni doesn't enjoy it as much as I do. This place isn't convenient. And we haven't always had the budget, or the energy, to do the things we planned on doing.

I don't know how many years we went without hot water. Three? And I think it took us two years to get a heat source. For the first couple years, all four of us slept in the 350 square foot cabin (I slept in the incomplete addition as long as the temperature was above forty degrees).

Has life been hard here? Yes. Especially for Joni. I've experienced some judgment from her friends for living out here in the middle of nowhere without the normal implements of luxury you find in town. My defense? I am a poor man from a poor family.

Now that I am the top of the family pyramid, my inheritance from my father was one very rusty van that I plan on turning into a chicken coop when it dies; I also inherited a rocking chair. My father always said that you should spend less than you make. That's the way to get ahead. That's what this frugal, simple structure give us the capacity to do.

For the last two years I have worked taking care of the elderly, visiting them in their homes. This has been an eye opening experience as I have seen the extremes of comfortable retirement living and also those who are dirt poor, suffering. I've had to buy food for clients when they wouldn't have any food in the house for another week. Poverty does not appeal to me one bit. Poor people die younger; are less happy; have more health problems; and experience much less joy.

Getting old requires planning. When you don't have a job that provides a retirement (like a cushy government job), or if you come from hardscrabble Peasant stock, you have to be even smarter. Such is the story of wealth in America. As America has become incredibly unequal when it comes to wealth, the rules have changed in order to keep the wealthy, wealthy. It is called the "Born on Third Base" phenomena. Think of it this way: we currently can inherit 1.6 Million dollars tax free.

I inherited a rocking chair. Therefore, living in an inexpensive house in the middle of nowhere not only allows access to beauty and critters--- it also affords me an opportunity to save money. I have to earn money the old fashioned way: I have to earn it.

Left Wingers and Radicals often have an uncomfortable relationship with money. We generally have a bit of disgust for the rich. So many of us Lefties fall into two camps: The Trustfunders and the "Poverty is a Virtue" Crowd---otherwise known as "voluntary poverty". I am not a Trustfunder and I learned long ago that Voluntary Poverty has a nasty way of turning into mind numbing, plain ole' poverty. I have no interest in being poor. And no Left Winger should tolerate anyone having to live in poverty.

This house has made it so that we could raise a couple of kids in later middle age and save a decent amount of money with a very modest income. Perks of simplicity. Joni and I didn't have a lick of savings when we moved out here. Now, we are on track to living a bit more comfortably. That's what a Mud House has done for us.

So for my critics: those who think I have done damage to both spouse and children by living in the middle of nowhere in a Mud Hut. Tell me how I could have done it differently and still had a few shekels to rub together in retirement? I think this was the right decision. Hard as it is sometimes.

Friday, April 8, 2016

This Presdidential Race Needs a Dr. Gonzo to Cover It.

Can you believe this Presidential race?

On one hand we have the resurrection of a real Left Wing political movement in the Democratic Party, where Bernie Sanders valiantly battles with the worn out Corporatist Wing of the Party.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have a race between a Billionaire Celebrity with a bad hairpiece versus a Texas Religious Shithead who has no friends even in his own party.

The Democrats reach new heights of real debate and the Republicans sink to ever lower depths of, well let's call it what it is, Fascism.

Oh I wish I could read a real writer/journalist's take on the race. Alex Cockburn is dead. If Hunter Thompson knew this presidential race was gonna happen, he might not have eaten that slug. And Hitch, what would Hitch say about it all? Oh to get their take on the race. There aren't any decent radical journalists left in the US on the campaign trail. Most of them have retired to the Ivory Tower where the health benefits and pension ensure a decent retirement (if they quit drinking and smoking soon enough to enjoy it).

 MSNBC covers this race with some intelligence but without really saying what is going on within the Democratic Party. And MSNBC has borrowed the FOX formula by having only attractive female reporters following the Presidential Candidates. I don't mind. They all seem to be named "Kate" or "Kasie". They do an admirable job of reporting on their subjects. My favorite is Kasie Hunt who, I hope, ends up with her own program when she is done chasing Bernie Sanders around the country. Kasie is spunky and sounds a bit like a female John Chancellor as she, with very proper posture, reports on the days events.

Of course none of these reporters can stray too far outside the Network MSM "Box". That box might be a bit more liberal at MSNBC than it is at Fox, but both of them have boxes that shall not be breached.

I haven't turned the dial over to FOX to see how they are covering this race. I've been too scared to do that. And CNN? S.E. Cupp looks great in those glasses and their graphics are awesome, but the commentary is a bit tired with the same faces giving the same schtick over and over again.

If I were a rich blogger with press credentials, I'd love to follow along with this race. It'd be a hoot to cover. Rich in nuance. I mean look what is happening: We have the redevelopment of a viable Left Wing in the Democratic Party at the same time that the Republicans devolve into a dangerous cesspool of racism and hate.

It is a dangerous and exciting year. A time for real Fear and Loathing. If only I could find some decent radical commentary on it worth reading. You would think that with the rise of a viable Left Wing in the Democratic Party, we would  have some talented Left Wing writer out there who could fully chronicle what is going on and present it to us in readable and punchy prose. I can't find anybody worth reading. Have you?

***Addendum: John Nichols of The Nation writes a good campaign blog worth reading. It misses a bit of flare and I don't think Nichols gives Sanders enough credit for reinvigorating the Left in the US. You can read it here

Friday, March 25, 2016

Extreme Moderation and Meniere's Disease: My Struggle.

Two years ago in May, I was at work on the Psych Unit in St. Helena when things started to get a bit wobbly. I felt a weird, heavy sensation in my head, followed by a rushing noise in my ears, followed by a "spin". The world was spinning so fast, much like a Tilt-a-Whirl at a carnival, that I had a hard time walking. A kind colleague walked me down to the Emergency Room (where I did the psych evals) and helped me into a gurney. The doctor there said it was just "vertigo" caused by a recent cold that I had had. An inner ear disturbance. He gave me meclizine and told me to take a couple days off and rest. He got it partially right; it was inner ear related.

A couple months later, it happened again. And again after a couple more months. And so on.

I had started calling them "attacks", these vertigo spins. They lasted for up to two hours, but generally they are over after forty five minutes. Joni was concerned.

Then last April I had one while driving on a busy section of highway 99 about ten miles outside of Chico. This attack was a bit worse than all the others. Joni had to come rescue me (from 45 miles away) and the spin was still going. I fell into the van and endured the spin. She went to the grocery store while I continued to spin in the back of the van; when the spin just wouldn't subside, she took me to the Emergency Room. In the Emergency Room waiting area, the spin continued and I started to vomit.

 I was hospitalized for the weekend.

They ruled out a stroke and a heart attack. But I didn't get the diagnosis until I saw an Ear, Nose and Throat MD a week after the hospitalization.

I have Meniere's Disease. It sucks.

Meniere's Disease is a disturbance of the inner ear where, they think, the fluid builds up over time and then bursts, causing the motion center of the ear to become unstable. The result is the classic "spin" or "vertigo attack". The attacks last for an hour or two and, unfortunately, affect your hearing. Hearing loss to the point of deafness is not uncommon.

Meniere's Disease has three components: Tinnitus (ringing in your ears); vertigo attacks; and hearing loss. Nobody really knows what causes it. Once you have it, you have a life-long chronic illness. There is no cure.

I've always had Tinnitus. I always thought it was from playing music too loud in my teenaged years. I liked my Beatles and Larry Norman to be played at rock concert decibel levels. That certainly could be the case, but, more than likely, the tinnitus has been a prodromal symptom of my Meniere's Disease.

The ENT checked my hearing (minor hearing loss in the upper registers, not enough to warrant a hearing aid) and told me to come back in a year to check my hearing again. He also told me to come back if the attacks became unmanageable. He put me on HCTZ, a diuretic, and told me not to eat salt.

I continued to have attacks over the next nine months. They started to get more frequent, and I started to fear for my safety while driving. I drive about six to eight hundred miles a week for my job. I get about a minute's warning with the heavy head sensation and the weird feeling and the whoosh in my ears that an attack is imminent. Once the attack happens, I am helpless for the next hour or two. So that gives me about a minute to find a safe place to park the car and ride out the spin. I started to carry a lounge chair in the trunk of my car so that I could set it up and ride out the vertigo. I carry meclizine (motion sickness pills) at all times. After an attack, I am exhausted and generally need to sleep for the rest of the day.

With attacks starting to happen every two weeks or so, I finally got around to getting serious about this disease. Disability seemed like more than a possibility. A car accident certainly seemed within the realm of possibility too.

I got serious about my salt intake. Turns out there is salt in everything. Eating out isn't possible anymore. I try to keep my sodium intake to be under 1,500 milligrams a day. A quarter pounder from McDonald's has 1,200 milligrams of sodium in it.

Over the last two years of "attacks", I've come to realize they happen towards the end of the day at the end of the week. The attacks seem to be triggered by, what I call, the THREE S's:  Sleep (or lack thereof); Salt (too much); and Stress (too much). If you have Meniere's, you have to get lots of sleep, give up salt and reduce/manage your stress. Yeah, right.

I ordered a half dozen books on Meniere's and did my research. It is a relatively obscure disease and the literature out there tends to be self-published by those of us who have the disease. Around 40,000 people are diagnosed every year in the US with Meniere's. I'm one of the unlucky members of the class of 2015.

After reading the books, I discovered that you need to go a bit farther than just eliminating salt, getting sleep and reducing stress. In order to reduce the number of attacks, you also have to give up CAFFEINE, NICOTINE and ALCOHOL. Nicotine isn't a problem, but giving up coffee? Beer? Wine? Scotch? Is there anything left to live for?

So I got serious in January. A couple of the books suggested that after you get a diagnosis of Meniere's, you should take two years off from work to learn how to manage the disease. Must be Trustfunders, because I need money or I will end up sleeping under a bridge. But I did start to get serious about this illness. There's plenty of incentive. Can you imagine living without music? Hearing birds? Hearing the squabble of children? I'm not interested in becoming deaf.

So I greatly reduced the caffeine and pretty much gave up alcohol. I had a couple beers on my birthday at the Sierra Nevada Brewery and a couple glasses of wine about a month before that---and that's it. Caffeine I have pretty much given up except a latte' as a treat now and then.

As I write this, I haven't had a Meniere's Attack since January 28. That's 57 days. With any luck, I hope I'm on my way to managing this disease. It ain't fun. I'd love to have a potato chip. Just one. I'd love to have French fries with salt on them. But I can't. I like listening to Abbey Road too much to jeopardize that by eating a potato chip.

But oh, to have a glass of Scotch every night before bed in the winter, like I used to. Forced into sobriety, I am. It ain't all that bad. And with any luck, as I learn to manage this illness, I might be able to have a potato chip or a glass of Scotch now and then. I am learning to practice Extreme Moderation.

57 days and counting without a spin. I can't tell you how exciting that is for me.