Friday, June 26, 2015

Two Days that Changed the World....

Sometimes life surprises you. Like the Assembly passing SB277. Or the Supreme Court deciding that marriage is just marriage. Or the Supreme Court saving Obamacare. Twice.

For those who think there is no difference between the parties, all of the above came about because of Democrats. Democratic Supreme Court nominees made the difference. The Democrats carried SB277 in California.

And I was surprised to see I had the Guest Comment in the CNR last week. That was a surprise when I opened up the page to see my smiling mug.

It has been a good week.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

For the Serious Butte County News Junkie...

This is a post I wrote for Butte County Media Watch, a Facebook Page I manage. On that page, I try to publish most of the opinion pieces and letters-to-the-editor in Butte County. I include it here because it took a lot of work and I'd like it to get a bit more exposure.

Warning: This is a post for the serious local News Junkie.

Butte County Media Wrap Up:

It has been quite awhile since I've done one of these. Partially it is because the media scene has been downright boring. After the really ruckus election of 2014, things have settled down.

Butte County has only four newspapers that provides local news content. The liberal Chico News and Review (CNR), The Chico ER and Oroville MR (mostly the same paper), and the Paradise Post. The last three papers are owned by the same media group. The CNR is the first creation of 3 weekly newspapers that includes the influential Sacramento News and Review and the Reno News and Review. The Sacramento News and Review is where the persecuted Gary Webb ended up after writing gallantly about the CIA/Cocaine connection. His life was profiled in a recent movie and his reputation has been redeemed. Unfortunately, Gary took his own life from struggling with the pressure before he was vindicated.

No doubt we have some fairly decent journalism in Butte County. The CNR newswriting is awesome. The Chico ER and the Paradise Post boast some decent reporters. Heather Hacking is always good when she writes a news-story. Ashley Gebb at the ER also turns in a good read. The best newswriting belongs to the CNR where their newswriters, managed by Tom Goscoyne, always put out accurate, readable print. All in all, the news writing is pretty good in Butte County.

We could benefit from more local, diverse opinion writing. The Paradise Post has four columnists on board: Rick Silva (the editor): Russ Neal (a conservative retired school administrator); Jim Chastian, who grew up in Paradise but lives elsewhere and, again, is a conservative; and the ever fiery Jaime O'Neill, who single handedly, defends the Left/Liberal spectrum up on the Ridge. Plus the editorial board is skewed to the rightward end of the spectrum. Rick Silva does occasionally offer an "Editor of the Day" column. Never-the-less, the Paradise Post does, at least, offer some local Op/Eds.

The Chico ER has a column by its editor: David Little. Plus they have a weekly amateur column, rotated by four writers. These columns are rarely about politics and tend to be local, color/flavor pieces without much controversy to them. The letters-to-the-editor are the most diverse and interesting in the Chico ER. But the word count diminishes the arguments of the proponents. Plus they can be amateurish (by definition) and the accuracy of information is judged on a very low standard.

The CNR has a column by Melissa Daugherty, the editor. She has won awards with this "Second and Flume" column and it is influential. She has been the editor for a couple of years, and after a fairly slow start, she has established herself as a good column writer and an excellent editor. I've written for her and she is demanding and an excellent editor. The CNR also has a 400 word "Guest Comment" that provides local insight into issues. The letters-to-the-editor section is tidier than the Chico ER. Plus the 3,000 word Feature is open to free-lance writers (I've written a few of them). Again, the quality is very good.

The CNR editorials are a much needed breath of fresh air in an otherwise mostly Conservative desert.
We live in a county that boasts a University and a 2 year college. We have hundreds, if not thousands, of highly educated professors and teachers. Our culture doesn't benefit enough from having these thousands of educators who live the intellectual life. Our Intelligentsia has lots of heavy weights in it. From writers of books on Climate Change to a biography of I.F. Stone.

I wish we would hear more from these Professors. Mark Stemen and the retired Jaime O'Neill aside, very few of these teachers enter into the fray. And please, correct me if I'm wrong. Some do write for the CNR; and the online publication: ChicoSol, does do some good work.

There are some local freebie publications that offer a limited world-view such as the Lotus Guide (which tends to be a bit flakey and intellectually infirm).

It would really help if the Big 4 local newspapers did more to attract expert opinion from the PHD's. Everyone likes to be paid for writing: offering a small sum might help. There is nothing like a check from a newspaper to stroke a writer's ego.

So come on Professors, belly up to that lap top and let us know what you think! We need to hear your opinion. Come down from the Ivory Tower and join into the fray! We get to hear plenty from the small set of courageous letter writers. We could use more expert opinion to elevate the debate on many local issues.

When it comes to newspapers, we who live in Butte County are spoiled. Per capita, we have more newspapers and more variety of opinion than most small, rural counties. I'm not complaining. We do well here. I'd just like to hear from the Ivory Tower a bit more in the form of local Op/Ed's.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

For the Love of Guns...

All this is so predictable. Another horrible mass shooting by a young, white male. Wait a few months and it will happen again; the response, the same.
Already I have seen the tired argument that if only somebody in that historic church was armed, they could have stopped the assassinations. Right wing radio talkinghead, Michael Savage, raised the question that the government did it. Just another "false flag" operation. And then he said perhaps it was the opiate recovery medication, suboxone, which caused the kid to do it. When in doubt, blame the AMA and psychotropic medications.

In fact, blame everything possible in order to deflect the argument elsewhere. And provide the same old answers: More guns make us safer! Psychotropic medications creates crazed killers! There are gun laws already on the books that would have stopped this! Gun free zones lead to mass shootings!
But never, ever question why a 21 year old, unstable, unemployed, racist kid had a reason to own a lethal, easily concealed, weapon. Never question that the love of guns, the worship of the false Glock Idol, the political power of the NRA—all contribute to this problem.

There was an opportunity to prevent the tragedy in Charleston.
A friend of the shooter actually took Dylann Roof’s weapon when he became concerned that his friend was making bizarre threats. This friend gave the gun back to Roof because the friend was a felon and he couldn’t be found in possession of a gun. In California, under AB 1014, this friend could have called the authorities and reported that Roof was making bizarre lethal threats. The police then could have investigated and taken the weapon. Now that’s a sensible gun law.

But would that friend have actually called the cops? Good question. The NRA used to be an organization that promoted gun safety. Well, by now we certainly should have figured out that some people should not own a gun. Rather than fighting every sensible gun law that is proposed as a threat to the 2nd Amendment, the NRA could get back into the business of gun education—including when you should call the police and report that a fellow gun owner is acting bizarre and making threats.
Protecting the public by calling the police when someone is acting unstable and making threats is the responsibility of all of us, whether we own guns or not. The NRA certainly could make this part of gun education a higher priority. And they should get out of the way of stopping sensible gun laws.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Our Backyard Wildlife Cam...

I'm not certain how long it was ago, probably about a year, that I bought an inexpensive wildlife camera. It isn't a top-of-the-line model; it was quite inexpensive. But this is one toy I have purchased that continues to thrill me almost on a daily basis.

I almost lost it once, when I set it up by a tiny seep of a spring. Pot farmers tore the camera down (but didn't destroy it), when they decided to use that seep to irrigate their grow. This was pretty far off the beaten path; I was surprised to see that tubing go in for the irrigation. That's pretty much the story of every little spring of water in the foothills: it is being used to irrigate somebody's grow. This drought is tough on the wildlife. Stealing water makes it tougher.

But I digress.

Lately I've been putting the camera pretty close to our house. All the apricots on our tree have gotten ripe at the same time. We can't keep up with them, so, inevitably, many fall to the ground and get a bit too ripe and buggy to use. Besides, the critters should get some of our bounty. So we pitch the apricots over the fence. That's where I set up my camera. Joni calls it "Chumming".

We've been curious as to what eats our apricots every year. Now we know.

We've had foxes, coyotes, skunks, jackrabbits, squirrels, stellar jays. Plus an assortment of neighborhood dogs and cats.

Having these critters this close to the house makes me all the more impressed with our 12 year old Rocky the cat. He is an outdoor/indoor cat. Comes and goes as he pleases. He is quite the survivor to be running around with all these predators. You have to be smart to not become a meal.

We haven't really seen any acorns for a couple of years now. The drought has severely limited their production. I can't help but wonder how the animals that are dependent upon the acorns are doing. Deer. Bear. Acorns used to be a staple of the Natives in the region.

We also have noticed that there aren't many pine cones. Trees are just trying to survive. Because the oaks and pines aren't producing food, we've started feeding our squirrels. It is probably a bad idea to feed wildlife, it's probably only a matter of time before the bears discover we've been putting food out. The bear have have been migrating into the cities around here looking for food and water. Two were killed outside of Chico and Oroville last week.

The same view during the day with a Steller's jay and our propane tank.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

My Day with the Pro and Anti-Vaxxers in Sacramento

Last week, Jazmine, age 13, was game enough to go to Sacramento with me to spend the day. Now we didn't go to the Mall, Museum or to any of the regular tourist attractions. Jazmine went with me to check out a protest against SB277. After the protest, we had pizza in Sen. Richard Pan's office and then she sat for six hours as we watched the Assembly Health Committee debate SB277.

In case you haven't been following the news lately, SB277 is a bill that would require students who attend public and private school in California to be vaccinated for 10 vaccine preventable diseases. It would do away with the "Personal Belief Exemption" that has led to pockets of unvaccinated children through out the Yuppie/Granola/Wealthy pockets of California. I wrote about SB277 for the CNR. An article that, as usual, was disabused and praised, maligned and applauded. Some called it Pro-Vax propaganda. Some called it "balanced". I called it the truth, as I see it.

I worked on that article for 8 months. I first pitched the idea back in October. I read books on both sides of the issue; my G-mail Alerts were set for 8 months to topics like "measles" and "pertussis" and "vaccination". I estimate that I probably read 2,000 articles on the topic. Or, as the Anti-Vax people say: I did my own research.

This is an issue that divides my friends. I have Left leaning friends who hate vaccinations and think that they are just a tool of making money for big business. They think that vaccines cause all sorts of maladies like autism and that they contain poisons like mercury and formaldehyde.  I have Granola Hippy friends that believe in anything natural. They read websites run by Mercola  and GreenMedInfo and other sites that promulgate the "Natural Living Idol" so often found amongst urban liberals who love cannabis, hate GMO's and buy all their veggies at the Farmers' Market. I also have friends who remember what life was like before vaccines. There is an age gap, as the younger you are, the more likely you will be to be Anti-Vax.

I believe in Government and I believe that Government can make a difference in people's lives. It was through Government Vaccination programs that Small Pox was eliminated. Government programs eliminated polio in North and South America. Last month, Rubella was declared to be eliminated in the western hemisphere by Government Action. I believe in public health. As a person with Socialist tendencies, I believe in being Social. I believe in Herd Immunity (although that is not a matter of belief and if anybody argues against the concept you should immediately start edging towards the door because you have run across a person that is totally out-of-touch with reality). I believe that we should vaccinate ourselves so that we can help others.

Reading through the arguments of both sides, I have become a vaccine advocate.

Jazmine and I made it early to the Anti-Vax rally. I milled around--reading the signs. Much has been made that the Anti-Vax Movement is a movement of Mothers. That is obviously true as I roamed amongst all the women in Red Shirts at the Rally.  It is an overwhelmingly White, Middle Class, Educated, Sustainable Living/Gluten Free Movement. It was an influx of Suburban Moms.

I listened to the speeches. I heard Assemblyman Patterson say that not letting unvaccinated children attend public schools was similar to sending kids to Internment Camps or Concentration Camps (he soon backed off of that statement). I heard Assemblywoman Shannon Grove talk about how this bill pretty much is an attack upon our Freedom. This Assemblywoman went on to make the national news by stating that the drought in California is God's punishment of this Jezebel state for actually providing some semblance of access to abortion services.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove addresses the rally.

And then the Nation of Islam guy, Brother Tony Mohammed showed up. He brought a message from Louis Farrakhan, that the Black Community is against this "heinous bill". It was strange to see all the White Christian Moms who live in all white school districts, applauding the impeccably dressed Nation of Islam guy (with his ever present bodyguard behind him--lessons learned from Malcom X).
His speech was rather stirring.

Then came Brian Hooker. Brian lives in Redding, California and teaches at a Podunk school there with a nursing program that exposes future RN's to Anti-Vax propaganda. Brian is besainted in the Anti-Vax community for outing a secretly recorded tape that purports to prove that the CDC has known about an Autism/MMR Vaccine connection since 2004. He took the stage and went through all the talking points. He had the gall to say that more people die from Vaccinations than from all public infectious diseases. Lots of hyperbole.

Brian Hooker addresses the rally.

Assemblyman Patterson

At the back of the crowd, Dr. Bob Sears hung out. I can pick out Sears in a crowd now, having heard him talk so many times. I had to leave before he talked. And I had to leave before the Rock Star, Barb  Fisher, founder of the National Vaccine Information Center and, really, the person who started the whole Anti-Vax Movement in the US back in 1980. She has made a life of spreading Anti-Vax propaganda.

But Jaz and I had to leave because we had an appointment to have lunch in Dr. Pan's office. It was a few hundred yards, four flights, and a total shift in World View to go to Dr. Pan's office for pizza. The Pro-Vax people were there. One of the founders of Vaccinate California, Leah Russein, who has become a friend through out this ordeal, paced the halls with her toddler in a sling, trying to get the poor lad to sleep. Leah was an environmental aide to Diane Feinstein before becoming a mother and starting this shoe-string organization four months ago. And no, the group doesn't get any money from Pharmaceutical companies. We had lots of pizza but Senator Pan wasn't as available. Or maybe he doesn't like pizza.

Off to the hearing. We were able to secure seats in the Assembly Hearing room. Jazmine and I had decent seats. Behind us sat, Bob Sears. Also Toni Mark, an MD who has said some rather startling New Agey things and has been profiled by Oprah; she was bragging about her role in the anti-vaccine movie that has just come out called "Bought". Brother Tony Mohammed sat behind us too--with his silent body guard

We sat in our seats for an hour before the hearing started. The hearing lasted five hours, before the vote. Dr. Pan and Sen. Ben Allen, endured the whole thing standing in front of the Committee. First the pro-SB277 side talked for 25 minutes; then the Anti-Vax people which included Jay Gordon MD and the afore mentioned Barb Loe Fisher.

Then came the public testimony and around 1,000 Red T-Shirt Wearing Moms (mostly) testified their opposition to this bill. A few of us got up to state our support of the measure. After the parade of Red Shirts that took a couple of hours for them to have their say, the Assemblymembers talked. And asked questions of Dr. Pan.

It was impressive to see them grapple with the issue. Most buy into the science that vaccines are important. Those who were opposed to the bill gave eloquent speeches about parental rights and the like. It was obvious they had put some thought into it. One lawmaker, Autumn Burke, admitted that her own child was being vaccinated on a slower schedule. Burke abstained from the vote. But in the end, SB277 passed the Committee by a 12-6 partisan vote. It now goes to the Assembly floor.

As the vote was announced, it was mostly anti-vax people left. They hollered at the lawmakers "Merck Won". They hollered "Fascists!". Lots of anger. Jazzy and I waited for the crowd to leave. A Seargant at Arms noticed that we were still in the Chamber and was worried for Jazmine and my safety amongst the Anti-Vax crowd. Two of them, big guys, took us aside and led us down a back stairway to safety, away from the crowd that believes that Vaccines are poison and the cause of many problems.

Driving home, sadness descended over me. The world views of the Anti-Vaxxers and the Pro-Vaccine people are so very far apart. There is no middle ground. The AVers inhabit a part of the political spectrum all their own. Some of which I find sympathetic (which is part of the appeal of the movement). What populist isn't Anti-Corporate and Anti-Profit? What Environmentalist isn't sympathetic to all things natural? Things like proper nutrition and boosting the immune system the old fashioned way?

Government isn't exactly a trustworthy Institution. We have the Military/Industrial complexes. We have revolving doors between the CDC and Big Pharma. What self respecting Radical wouldn't be opposed to such things? Government has given us wars. Government has bolstered the wrong industries like Big Oil and enhanced Gas Extraction.

We don't trust Government anymore. We don't trust Big Corporations. The Anti-Vax Movement takes advantage of those warranted concerns.

That's the appeal of the movement. The Rich have always wanted the Poor to endure the risk when it comes to vaccines. Ever since the 1830's, the rich wanted the poor and minorities to get crude vaccinations for small pox. Even back then, the rich wanted to hide in the Herd. Even in the 1850's, the phenomena of Herd Immunity was noticed.

It isn't a very long stretch from the Rich imposing the small pox laws of the 1850's to the Wealthy White Privileged wanting to duck out of being Vax'd in this modern decade. The motives are much the same: Let others bear the risk.

But then you look at the data. The real data. Vaccines are safe. They don't cause autism. And they have helped you to live 30 years longer than prior to their invention. We need them. There is nothing good, or natural, about Whooping Cough or Measles. Diphtheria is back in Spain, it kills one in six and it is a plane ride away.

And there are pockets of rich kids, a reservoir, waiting to be infected. That needs to stop. We need SB277.