Friday, February 29, 2008

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO, for February 29, 2008

Novus Rufus Ursus Horribilis Splendidus

For a while there I thought poor beleaguered Los Osos was in for better days. The magnificent Paula Zima “Bridge Bears,” those gorgeous guardians of the gateways both north and south, came in for a refurbishing. Volunteers had power-washed the statues and soon, there they were, gleaming with a golden finish that made me think our little town might be in for some happy days living as a blond.

No such luck, though, as I soon got an email saying that the golden coat was but an undercoat and soon the lovely ladies would be returned to their dour grizzly umber once again. Dang! I thought. Back to life as a brunette. Poor Los Osos. We never get a break, Boo-Hoo.

But then I got another note that proved to be more accurate: Our ladies had come out from under their beauty treatment as . . . Redheads! Yes, peeking through the blond and umber coatings I could definitely see the coppery gleam of red. Which immediately raised two thoughts: Neil Ferrell, editor of the Bay News, has long referred to Los Osos as the County’s “red-haired step-child,” as in, ignored, denied, abused, laughed at, forgotten – the sort of town sent to their room and given cold gruel to eat while having the likes of Roger Briggs and the entire Regional Water Quality Control Board inflicted on them year after year. If our Bridge Bears were now showing glimpses of the true state of the community as abandoned red-haired orphan, well that was certainly appropriate for our beautiful bears are indeed a powerful, magical representative of our community, for better or for worse.

But then I thought, Hold on, redheads are more than abandoned step-children relegated to the attic. Redheads have traditionally been something else indeed. Feisty, full of life, unpredictable, bodacious, fierce, which is also a powerful representation of our community, too. So maybe our carefree blond days only lasted a few weeks. It was an underpainted fling, a diversion. And thoughts of being a brunette wearing glasses and meekly taking orders was simply not fitting. But a redhead? Maybe now the symbolic soul of this community finally has an appropriate color to match its sanguine heart.

In 1996, I wrote a column noting the work done after vandals had disgraced their souls by smashing off one bear’s nose. The bear had been removed for repair and was now returning:

“Up the street, the skilled members of the Plaster and Cement Mason’s Local 600, who had donated their time and expertise to recast the Los Osos Bridge Bear, arrived with the new bear atop a flat bed truck. Meanwhile, Mike Tutt, of Tutt Tree and Crane Service, who once again had donated his time and equipment, was waiting. Soon, the great crane ponderously hoisted the giant cement bear onto its pedestal.

“After the original bear was attacked by vandals last year, the Los Osos community rose as one to donate time and money to replace that much-loved creature. During the past months, the pedestal has sat forlorn and empty, a sad reminder that the urge to destroy is always a powerful and ever present force in our daily lives.

“A few weeks ago, a new force appeared – a handful of stuffed bears had been anonymously placed on that empty base, plush babies calling out for their giant Mama who was now floating down from the sky to settle with a soft bump.

“After the crane and crowds had left, a white car pulled up and a woman emerged bearing a huge vase of just-cut garden flowers. She placed the bouquet at the foot of the bear then left as abruptly as she had come. At artist Paula Zima’s suggestion, all the stuffed bears were returned to join the blooms in a colorful welcome home gathering.”

A long-ago flight on a crane over the marsh, then welcome home blooms, and now a quick shampoo and a new tint; Makes a girl feel positively giddy and ready to face whatever the world wishes to throw her way. But this time, she’ll be doing it dressed with just a hint of red. Be warned.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Survey Sez?

The following survey came in via email from a PZLDF list-serve member. It was an informal compilation of questions concerning the Wastewater Project. As a general list of Things To Look For, Things To Keep In Mind, Things To Do, it's a good start. If you have any others, do add them. Some of the comments will be good to keep in mind and maybe bring to any public input sessions in the form of a question or two.

The Los Osos Wastewater Project

If you were to give the County a "report card" on the effort to date, what overall grade would you give them to date? (A-F)

The score is from 1-10, with ten the highest, please answer the following questions or statements.

Feel free to add comments

Has the County been true to the mission stated for the project?
Is the Los Osos project schedule realistic?
Is the project on schedule?
Is the Outreach achieving the goal of community participation?
Is the letter and spirit of 2701 being fulfilled?
Are all options being fully vetted?
Will the project be affordable for you?
Is the project funded correctly and adequately?
Are you in favor of private funding if the long term costs prove to be favorable?
Will the water resource and conversation goals be likely met?
Is the timing of a transfer to the County after 2008 appropriate?
Do you support the expenses and budget for the preliminary effort to date?
Do you have confidence that the EIR and other due-diligence tasks are being handled correctly?
What level of confidence do you have that the project will be completed by the County?
What level of confidence do you have that the project will be completed by the CDO enforcement deadline of 2011?
Do you believe that the water board will work cooperatively with the Los Osos project?
I haven't a clue what is happening and need more information from the County.
Did you approve of the TRI W site?
Do you support "Design-Build" for project delivery?
If the Bids for the project come in higher than budgeted, will you support an increase in your assessment?
A system that uses on-lot tanks as part of the collection system (similar to a septic tank) is ok if it provides the best value, lowest cost.
I would not under any circumstances want to have a tank on-lot. Even if it is lower cost.
I have received a notice of violation and I am concerned that I could have enforcement order on my home.
I am participating in the County process, and satisfied with the way the project is going.
I plan to move from Los Osos before the project is delivered.

Other information:

Recovery 101, Part Tres or Quatro

The De Vaul Ranch Saga continues. As the Tribune reports today, after the County code enforcement folks offically shut down the non-permitted "barn," the folks staying at the ranch moved out into tents near Los Osos Valley Road. They camped out there last time this issue came to a head and the placement of the tents and cots, in an unprotected, windy spot, made me wonder if folks were concerned with safety and well-being or making a public, political, in-your-face statement. After all, it would have made more sens to me to locate the tents and cots back in the lee of the trees or condemned 'barn." But then, so much of this ongoing battle has always been about "in your face" posturing, so the Tent City is now perfectly placed for maximum irritation aimed at the folks living in their expensive ranchette homes across the street, who have complainted that the de Vaul ranch in general is a blight upon their beautiful views, and a likely eyesore to all the motorists passing by who will have to ask, Hey, what's going on, and then go on to pepper their Supervisors with questions and comments .

What's gone missing in this dust-up, of course, are the actual people involved. For the most part, they're homelss, recovering addicts or alcoholics, with a few convicted sex-offenders thrown in for good measure. Since the county is not addressing their housing needs, the question remains: Are they and the community better served by having them staying on the ranch where they can get minimal shelter, some kind of coherent organized food supply and group support while they try to get their lives together? And the sex offenders would be a known quantity under close scrutiny of the police, rather than being scattered to the winds, who knows where, throughout the community. Or would the community be better served having these folks sleeping along the creeks or in county parks or other odd out-of-the way spots, under no supervision and with not even minimum group supervision and support?

Meantime, here's another question. Leaving the housing issue aside, does the de Vaul ranch have sufficient zoning leeway to allow for a group to set up a non-profit operation much the way Growing Grounds has? They're an amazing non-profit sheltered-workshop type program that helps people in recovery from mental illness, teaching them new skills and giving them real, honest to god paid work at a productive job growing plants for sale at nurseries throughout the county. Could something like that work at de Vaul's place? Recovering "employees" would commit to the program of sobriety and work at growing and selling specialty crops, seedling nursery plants, prepare and sell wine cask barrel planters, sell firewood & etc, with profits being used to pay "salaries," and if necessary, meals. Could such a business, properly run, serve as a basis for a practical, real, serious, "recovery" program, one that had as it's end-game, reintigration into society, not just a slightly nicer permanent homeless encampment.

Just a thought. Of course, the harsh reality is that no working ranch surrounded by encroaching million-dollar ranchettes and under tremendous pressure for other upscale future developments will remain a working ranch for long because working ranches are always "unsightly" and messy and have the potential to annoy the neighbors at different times of the season. It's the nature of the beast. So the clock is ticking on that property, one way or the other.

As public theatre, the de Vaul saga has been amusing. As real, on-the-ground human drama, it's not funny at all and remains a tough problem for this county and this country: What shall we do for people who can't or perhaps won't care for themselves?

Anatole France once savagely and satirically observed, "The Law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and steal bread." That quote ranks right up there with the thinking that people have a "right" to be mentally ill, as if that were a soberly-considered, competently and logically-made"lifestyle" choice, instead of a dangerous blade that can cut lives to the ground with swift indifferent strokes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Yes, It's The Department of Short-Sighted Unintended Consequences

Yesterday's L.A. Times had an instructive story by Deborah Schoch, "Water cuts taking a lsice out of avocado groves." Seems that years ago, farmers in the Fallbrook area, for example, "signed up for a program that gave them discounted water in return for their willingness to be the first in line for a water cutback.

"This winter is payback time."

So the farmers are either "stumping" (cutting down to stumps, painting them white to protect from the sun, all of which puts them into a long sleep/slow regrowth mode, thereby allowing them to preserve what water they have left for the trees that remain once the 30% cut back starts.

Translation? While the city dwellers are watering their non-edible lawns and filling their non-drinkable swimming pools with their allottments, the farmers, who are growing the food crops (avacados, oranges, whatever) eaten by the lawn-growing, pool-swimming city-folks, are being forced to cut back on their production. Or, if they've recently started farming and bought land at a dear price, will lose the farm altogether, meaning further food production loss.

"People need to know that in Southern California, water is a precious resource. But they'd rather water their laws and cut off the farmers." said Laura Blank, executive director of the LosAngeles County Farm Bureau. . . .

"Bob Polito, 57, who grows oranges in Valley Center, near Fallbrook, plans to take down as many as 1,500 trees, many with unripened fruit still on them. . . .

"Polito sells oranges, tangerines and lemons at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market and other area markets, where many shoppers haven't heard of the 30% cutback.
"That does not surprise him, since the water crunch is not being felt in the city, he said. "As long as they have enough water to put on their lawn and wash their dishes, they're happy."

Which Brings Us To Part Duh Of The Same Problem

The February 25, 2008 edition of The New Yorker, story by Michael Specter titled "Big Foot -- In measuring carbon emissions, it's easy to confuse morality and science."

Excellent article outlining some key elements of capitalism that might just save this planet IF the folks running the show behave in a smart, often seeingly counter-intuitive way. Consider the fashionable notion of "buying local" being better i.e. "greener" than buying stuff imported from vast distances.

Consider the work being done by "Adrian Williams, agricultural researcher in the Natural Resources Department of Cranfield University, England, commissioned bythe British government to analyze the ralative environmental impacts of a number of foods. 'The idea that a product travels a certain distance and is therefore worse than one you raised nearby -- well, it's just idiotic,' he said. 'It doesn't take into consideration the land use, the type of transportation, the weather, or even the season. "

"Many factors influence the carbon footprint of a product: water use, cultivation and harvesting methods, quanity and type of fertilizer, even the type of fuel used to make the package. Sea-freight emissions are less than a sixtieth of those associated with airplanes, and you don't have to build highways to berth a ship. Last year, a study of the carbon cost of the global wine trade found that it is actually more 'green' for New Yorkers to drink wine from Bordeaux, which is shipped by sea, than wine from California, sent by truck. That is largely because shipping wine is mostly shipping glass. The study found that 'the efficiences of shipping drive a 'green line' all the way to Columbus, Ohio, the point where a wine from Bordaux and Napa has the same carbon intensity."

And on it goes, counter-intuitive all the way, with the bottom line really being the bottom line: "No effort to control greenhouse-gas emissions or to lower the carbon footprint - of an individual, a nation, or even the planet -- can succeed unless those emissions are priced properly."

In other words, exactly what is "green," and what's it worth to you, bottom line? Put a price on the value to you to breathe clean air, drink clean water? It's an issue that really needs a very, very smart, real, on- the- ground, practical, consider- all- the- issues, often counter-intuitive approach.

And that's where the beauty of capitalism comes into play: "The lesson is important; price stimulates inventive activity. Even if you think the price is too low or ridiculous. Carbon has to be rationed, like water and clean air. But I absolutely promise that if you design a law and a trading scheme properly you are going to find everyone from professors at M.I.T to the guys in Silicone Valley coming out of the woodwork. That is what we need, and we need it now." . . . said Isaac Berzin, researcher at M.I.T. after hearing from a smarty-pants who's planning on putting a power plant next to an algae farm and using the algae to absorb, hence offset, the CO2 from power the plant while using the dried algae to power the plant -- closed loop.

Clever? Yep. Workable? Yep. Why? Because carbon is now a commodity and worth $$. And $$, as everyone knows, makes the world go 'round. It's something Amory Lovins, from his Rocky Mountain Institute, has been preaching for years. Is the world finally ready to listen to him? Let's hope so.

Excellent article. Far too long to do more there than just suggest you get a copy and read it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Sunday Poem, for a cold, blustry, beautiful, wet February day that's coming and going in and out like lions and lambs chasing down the warm sun of April, ready for the flower-burst.

The Kitten

More amazed than anything
I took the perfectly black
stillborn kitten
with the one large eye
in the center of its small forehead
from the house cat's bed
and buried it in a field
behind the house.

I suppose I could have given it
to a museum,
I could have called the local

But instead I took it out into the field
and opened the earth
and put it back
saying, it was real,
saying, life is infinitely inventive,
saying, what other amazements
lie in the dark seed of the earth, yes,

I think I did right to go out alone
and give it back peacefully, and cover the place
with the reckless blossoms of weeds.

Mary Oliver

Friday, February 22, 2008

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO, CA for February 21 2008
(the following was scheduled for run in The Bay News for Feb 14, but was shuffled over to run in the Feb 21 edition.)

Say, Ahhhhh

Coming so near to Super Election Tuesday, it was a perfect storm of images. First up was a Tribune exclusive report on local hospitals having to pick up the tab for “less fortunate” folks in need of medical care. On the front page was a picture of a 40 year-old auto mechanic who was admitted to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center with chest pains. The 40 year-old auto mechanic didn’t have health insurance.

Two thoughts went through my head: That’s not a minimum wage job. How is it possible that a 40-year old auto mechanic isn’t participating in some sort of insurance program? Then I thought: Only in America. If this man lived in Canada, England, France, Norway or one of hundreds of “first world countries,” this wouldn’t be a story, let alone a front page story. In Canada, 40 year-old men go into the hospital with blocked arteries all the time. They get treatment. They go home. No story.

The next day I was flipping through the latest Time magazine and came upon several full-page ads paid for by the American Medical Association, with ad copy that included this: “47 million uninsured. It’s not just a number or a graph in a report. . . . One out of seven of us doesn’t have health insurance, but we all have access to a voting booth. Please vote with this issue in mind. . . . . ”

The AMA is now urging people to vote for some kind of national health insurance coverage? THE AMA? Fifty years ago, when this country, like dozens of other first-world, “civilized” countries, had an opportunity to craft a national health program, it was the AMA that helped lead the charge to stop any such effort. The plans were branded “socialized medicine,” and declared to be a Commie plot to destroy America. Frightened of “Commies,” Americans left themselves to the tender mercies of private, for-profit Insurance Companies. And now, way too late, here’s the AMA urging voters to do something to fix the mess they helped to create?

Even more interesting, Time also noted that,” 44% of GOP voters favor the government guaranteeing universal health insurance, even it means a tax increase, says a November 2007 Pew Research poll.” GOP voters favoring a tax increase AND the AMA urging a national health program? Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Which begs some questions: It has been common knowledge that Americans get the least bang for their health-care bucks of all “first world” countries. Instead of having a system of universal, “Medicare-for-All,” pro-active, easily accessible, affordable “Wellness Clinics” to catch and treat disease early, we decided (with a lot of help from the AMA and the insurance companies’ various scary “Harry & Louise” advertising campaigns) to approach our national health as if it were a for-profit Las Vegas crap shoot instead of a personal and societal responsibility: Pay little or nothing, then pray that the dice don’t come up bad. And if they do, stick the Other Guy with the bill.

Even sillier, in order to avoid that old Commie menace, “socialized medicine,” we opted for a system that too often results in the most expensive, wasteful treatment in the world: Using emergency rooms as a primary care center. Hence, the front page story of a 40 year-old mechanic with no health insurance in an emergency room for hideously expensive surgical treatment of a heart condition that could have been caught and successfully treated far cheaper with diet and medication at a national health-care “Wellness Clinic” years ago.

With the upcoming presidential election, the issue is clearly on the table again. But this time, will enough Americans will be smart enough to see through the scare tactics to ask: Is health care a “right” we wish to give ourselves? Is a healthy citizenry a worthwhile Value of the Commons that we all need to pay for, along with decent roads, schools, parks and bridges? Is it something that makes our whole society better able to function competitively in the world? Or is the fiscal health and bottom-line profits of drug and insurance companies more important?

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” said Barack Obama to a cheering crowd on election night. We’ll surely know if that’s true come this November.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Recovery 101, Part Duh

Well, the De Vaul Ranch's "Sunny Acres" is back in the news. Property owner Dan De Vaul has been at loggerheads with the county over having un-permitted residents staying in a non-permitted structure while they are part of a privatelyoperating, self-supporting Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program on his ranch on Los Osos Valley Road & Madonna Rd.

In the latest Tribune story, it's noted that Mr. De Vaul "won't go through the $200,000 permit process the county is demanding. The final step is a public hearing, and he believes neighbors will persuade the Board of Supervisors to reject whatever project he presents."

Well, he's certainly right about that. The De Vaul Ranch, like so many ranches, had the misfortune to be trapped and surrounded by encroaching high-end homes. And people who live in million-dollar homes don't like looking out of their million-dollar windows to see rusting farm equipment and, for God's Sake, homeless people across the road or across a marsh from them!

It's all a matter of proper zoning, really. Expensive homes and upscale businesses go here. Slaughterhouses, recycling operations, sewage treatment plants and the mentally ill, sick, drug-addicted and/or homeless people go over there.

The problem, of course, comes when there is no "there" there because the County's broke, the State's broke, the Nation's broke, we have decided as a nation not to have national health coverage for sick, addicted people, and property values, not human values, determine how and where a community will grow. And homeless people, especially sick, addicted or mentally ill homeless people, have no value in our society so are always in the category of Also Rans -- a constant problem for local governments and police and neighbors to deal with piecemeal, as budgets and the political will allow.

When I first posted a blog entry on this dust-up between De Vaul and the County, I noted that another live-in detox program, Project Amend, was chugging along in SLO-Town, getting all their permits, making sure their buildings were up to code, & etc. And I noted that one of the first rules of Recovery when dealing with addicts is to Accept Responsibility, Deal With Reality, No Excuses, No Games, and further noted that Mr. De Vaul's snook-cocking game with the county -- which has been going on for years -- is the wrong example to set for people who must stop game playing, bite the bullet, play by the rules, fly right.

To which I got an email from a person involved with "Sunny Acres," asking me to consider "what Project Amend charges for their detox program and then check with Sunny Acres as to the cost of their program" and to understand that "a conditional Use Permit on AG land costs much, much more than a small 16 bed facility that is looking for a handout to help pay for it. Sunny Acres uses no taxpayer funds . . . it is self-supporting; the people are self-supporting."

All of which are certainly important points while missing my point. But the author, like Mr. De Vaul, continue to pose a question that still remains unanswered: So, what shall we do?

Taxpayers don't like homeless addicts, neighbors don't like homeless addicts, our real estate market has no place for homeless addicts, even self-sustaining ones. So we keep coming back to that questions: What do we do with the people at Sunny Acres who are trying to turn their lives around? Send them back to the creeks and railroad yards and highway underpasses? Let our tax-supported jails and prisons serve as a catch all for our lack of proper medical treatment? Tax ourselves to build decent medical de-tox facilities to treat the many medical issues often faced by the homeless? Ignore the whole thing and hope some churches will continue to offer teaspoons of heroic charity when cupfuls are needed to address the problem?

Back on square one.

Rabenaldt Rides Again

This morning, the Tribune reports that Pismo councilman Bill Rabenaldt will ask the City council to reverse his censure and apologize and return his city laptop computer and city credit card.

Mr. Rabenaldt made an interesting and serious point in the story, saying, 'We are all equals on this City Council, and by taking away my ability to communicate with the public or denying my right to go to additional meetings where I can learn new things to better serve the city is ridiculous."

Hmmm, is it time to take a look at the City's by-laws concerning councilpersons? As in, Censure is O.K. for Behaving Badly, but if it's anything more than a verbal/written hand-slap, if the censure involved limiting the ability of the councilmember to fully serve his constituents, then should the proper step be impeachment or recall by the voters? Short of being convicted of committing a crime, or being suspended pending an investigation into illegal activities, how can a Board limit the ability of one of their co-equals to function without disinfranchising the councilperson's constituents?

Well, maybe if the issue is put on the agenda, that will be part of the discussion. And people thought Los Osos' CSD's were lively.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Here Come da Judge, Part Duh

Press release from PZLDF regarding the court hearing Wed, the 20th.


February 18, 2008

Gail McPherson, Citizens for Clean Water -805-459-4535

San Luis Obispo, Ca.

Regional Water Board Fights California Citizen’s Who Seek To Protect Homes from Regulatory Taking
---- Court to Hear Arguments Wednesday February 20, 2008 in San Luis Obispo.

The State has filed legal actions to try to stop the Los Osos Citizen’s appeal from proceeding. The lawsuit challenges enforcement orders against individuals which is usually reserved for corporations.

Los Osos Citizens’ filed a defensive lawsuit in May 2007 appealing actions they claim abuse water board delegated regulatory authority, do not comply with basic legal requirements, and violate individual citizen’s constitutional protections. The Water Board has continued its wrangling, insisting the Central Coast Regional Water Board doesn’t have to follow legal requirements of other agencies.

In a civil rights lawsuit filed by Shaunna Sullivan in behalf of the 46 individual homeowners, and the community at large, the State and Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has been asked to simply vacate the orders they issued last year. The orders threaten to move 15,000 residents from their homes by 2011, and impose possible fines, up to $5000 per day, for each property-all the way back to 1988. These targeted individuals cannot build a commuinity sewer and have already committed liens on homes to pay for it. According to a spokesperson for the petitioners, "the lack of a mandated sewer is clearly a government failure. The orders meant to punish and intimidate individual citizens should be dropped."

Individual enforcement and threat of more orders followed one of the largest fines assessed in EPA history against the community services district in 2005.
($6.6 million fine levied against less than 200 homes.) The District was forced to file bankrupcy protection and turn the project over to the County in 2006.

The court documents filed opposing the citizen’s appeal, and arguments supporting the civil rights lawsuit will be heard in the San Luis Obispo Superior Court, Wednesday February 20, 2008 at 9:00 am in Dept. 2, Judge Barry T. LaBarbera presiding.


More Information:

CV070472: Prohibition Zone Legal Defense Fund v. Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Other Contacts:

Sullivan & AssociatesShaunna Sullivan2238 Bayview Heights Drive, Suite CLos Osos, CA 93402(805) 528-3364 fax Shaunna Sullivan,
805- 528-3355
Central Coast RWQCB
Michael Thomas

Don’t Go Near The Water. No, I’m Serious. Don’t Go Near The Water

Interesting story in the L.A. Times a few days ago: “Our medicines are altering marine biology: Study finds chemicals from wastewater are ending up in coastal waters – and affecting hormone levels in fish.”

Yep, as our local SurfRider group has been saying about the Morro Bay sewage outfall – and a lot of research data is confirming -- our pass-through drugs, i.e. birth control pills, and other pharmaceuticals that end up in our pee and from there into various water sources as well as the ocean, and all of them are having an adverse effect on sea life, in the form of, for example, “ . . . male flat fish contain unusually high levels of the female hormone estrogen, possibly in reaction to one or more of these hormone altering chemicals. As many as 90% of these male fish were found to have produced egg yolk proteins, and one had actually produced eggs, indicating that the feminizing of fish seen in freshwater streams and lakes can happen in the open ocean as well. This evidence, scientists said, suggests that diluting pollution with a vast amount of seawater may not be an effective way to dispose of these new and little understood contaminants.”

And, “ Sewage treatment plants only remove 50% -70% of these chemicals . . .” and “ . . . sewage plants could remove virtually all estrogen with more advanced forms of treatment. Primary treatment, the type used in San Diego, doesn’t take out much estrogen as secondary treatment, use by Los Angeles Hyperion plant in El Segundo. Those plants, if upgraded to tertiary treatment, could remove nearly all of the estrogen . . .”

Furthermore, the story noted, “ The results showed that the chemicals and responses from the fish were widespread and not confined to areas near sewage outfalls, showing how easily the chemicals get dispersed. Besides elevated estrogen levels in male fish, test results showed altered thyroid hormone levels in the turbot. They also had depressed cortisone levels, an indication that the fish were worn out and are vulnerable to disease.”

On the bright side, if tertiary treatment is effective, then can we hope that communities from Morro Bay to everywhere will upgrade sooner rather than later? The flatfish will certainly thank them.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Too Bad, Los Osos. Your Happy Days Are Over. Oh Dang!

Well, it was too good to last. When they refurbished our wonderful Bridge Bears from a growly dark ursine brunette into a honey blond, I thought maybe Los Osos was in for happier days. No such luck. The honey blond was undercoat. Got an email that artist Paula Zima and some bridge bear groupies put on the final staid, growly, dark brownish, grizzly finish coat.

Too bad, Los Osos. No blonde flings for you. Put your glasses back on, get rid of the Victoria's Secret push-up bra, it's back to the filing cabinet with you! Get me a coffe while you're up and I want sixteen copies of the Fletcher Report.
And Rabenaldt Replies . . .

In my Feb 15 posting, "Left Hand, Please Meet The Right Hand," I wrote about the problem the Tribune had getting their act together to figure out WHICH "public fools" they wanted to praise or faintly damn; specifically Pismo Beach's City Councilmember, Bill Rabenalt.

Well, Bill replied to Bill (Morem's) column over at

Makes for interesting reading. Especially for folks who keep wondering what the heck the Tribune is up to and why. Well, par for the course, I suppose.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Oops, Part Duh

The Can(n)on slated to appear in the Feb 14th Bay News fell through the cracks on a change-the-paper-size shuffle. Just got an email saying they'll run it on the 21st, so I'll be posting it here after the paper appears at your local news stands. So, pick up a copy next week and stand by.

Remember Tonight At The Red Barn on Los Osos Valley Rd

Bluegrass! Bluegrass! Bluegrass, with Tom and Patrick Stauber, with Mark Graham at 7 p.m. Feb 16 at the Red Barn. Potluck supper starting at 6, with music to dine to. Much fun. Los Osos Valley Road and Palisades Ave. $10 donation for the best music around!

And Now, Here's Your Saturday Poem

After which, it looks like it's shaping up to be a beautiful, sunny day. Go walk the dog! If you don't have a dog, go to Animal Services or Woods Humane Society and get a dog. Then go walk it.

One day in summer
when everything
has already been more than enough
the wild beds start
exploding open along the berm
of the sea; day after day
you sit near them; day after day
the honey keeps on coming
in the red cups and the bees
like amber drops roll
in the petals; there is no end,
believe me! to the inventions of summer,
to the happiness your body
is willing to bear.

Mary Oliver.

Friday, February 15, 2008

OOPS Gone Missing

If you went to pick up a copy of the Bay News to read the regularly scheduled Can(n)on this week, you'll notice it's, uh, missing. Don't know what happened, but left a message and an email to see what's up. Feel free to call Chris or Neil yourself at 543-6397. Since I never jump my hard copy, I can't post the column here until I find out when or if it's actually going to run. So, stay tuned.

Speaking of the Bay News . . .

In this week's issue, interesting write up by Jack Beardwood of the presentation sponsored by SLO Green Build, the Surfrider Foundation and local chapter of the Sierra Club and Hopedance, of Jonathan Todd of Todd Ecological Design Inc at the Community Center. He's the inventor of the "Eco Machines" -- systems that use biological solutions to wastewater problems.

What struck me soooo interesting was this: "Todd said he was surprised with how well he was received considering what a contentious issue the sewer is. ' I was told afterward that a lot of people are fired up at some of the possibilities. Most people were gracious and welcoming and really receptive to the ideas. Just the fact that there is such a high level of committment to saving the estuary and dealing with the nitrates leaves us a lot of room to be optimistic."

You see how effective and widespread the years-long Big Lie has been? That Los Osos is filled with nothing but Anti-Sewer Obstructionists.? Mr. Todd is surprised to come out here and, shocked, SHOCKED to find a room full of "receptive" people committed to saving the estuary.

Too bad the Regional Water Quality Control Board members didn't bother to attend the presentation as well and see first hand this community of . . . Anti-Sewer Obstructionists. Feh!

Left Hand, Please Meet The Right Hand

I think the Tribune might want to have a staff meeting. First off they run an editorial, "Blabberers of Osos, put a sock in it," suggesting that the "malcontents" and their "gripefest[s]" "blabbering" at the BOS meetings self-limit themselves to "one trip to the microphone every 30 days" to annoy the supervisors with all these pointless, meaningless, boring, foolish, gadfly, gripey, blabbery comments.

Then a few days ago, Billl Morem runs a column suggesting that Bill Rabenaldt (Pismo Beach's now-twice-censured City Council member step down because he's become "such an ineffectual voice on a governing body in a city that's facing huge challenges and is deserving of clear, deliberative thinking."

Yet Morem notes that Rabenaldt ". . . has some great ideas . . ." which ". . . are excellent ideas worth of consideration."

" So Bill should step down from the council and become the city's official fool," says Morem.

In other words, step down from an elective postition where your " . . . great ideas . . . are excellent ideas worthy of consideration," (and as an elected offcial you're in a position of power likely to be able to ACT on those "great ideas") in order to become a public gladfly, a "civic fool," with no power except to go to the podium during public comment period to speak to the council and if you do that often enough, the Tribune will run an editorial marginalizing your role in this whole democratic process by describing you as a "Blabberer" who's just engaging in a "gripefest" and suggest you speak only 2 minutes a month, or better yet, go away entirely.

Also adding to the confusion, in today's Trib are three letters to the editor that may point to what some of the real problems may be: Is this a matter of STYLE, as in Public Behavior by Public Officials In Public or Mind Your Ps and Qs, The Children Are Watching or Pssst, Remember Caesar's Wife or You Can Catch More Flies With Honey Than You Can With Vinegar or No Martini for Me, Thanks, I'm On The City Council Tonight, or Engage Brain Before Mouth?

Or is this a matter of SUBSTANCE, as in, Oh, Dear God, However Shall We Shut Up The Guy Who Keeps Pointing Out The Lack Of Clothing On Our Emperor? I Know, Let's Turn Him Into A Member of the Public, Then When He Comes To The Podium To Point Out Huge Civic Boo-Boos, We Can Marginalize Him By Calling Him a Blabberer And Limit His Gripefest To Two Minutes A Month!

Hey, works for Los Osos, why not Pismo Beach?


Interesting front page story in the Tribune, "To A.G. park's neighbors, dog zone idea stinks," about an apartment complex owner who's filed a legal complaint aginst the City AND The Five Cities Dog Park Association, a bunch of volunteers (that's an important point) to block the City from designating part of the City's Soto Sports Complex Park/Elm Street Park in AG to be used as a fenced off-leash dog park.

This gets interesting to me for a couple of reasons. (Full disclosure here: I'm on the Board of SLO-4-Pups, the group of volunteers that started and maintains the first fenced off-leash dog part in the county, at El Chorro Park on Highway 1. The county now has 4-5 more off-leash dog parks, with more in the works.)

First off, the comments made from one of the residents in the apartment house near the park are typical of people who are unfamiliar with dog parks. Clearly, the gentleman being interviewed for the story needs to actually go to a few dog parks to see what they're like. Instead, he's operating from assumptions and unproven worries that so far haven't appeared at other parks. As county parks division Manager, Pete Jenny, noted in the story, "Every one of the [volunteer] groups we have worked with [managing and maintaining the dog parks] have really stepped up and done exactly what they said they would do."

And, it's important to note, that putting ANY kind of new recreation activity into an existing park will require public discussion and input and anyone is free to file a claim against the city/county if they feel a proper review hasn't taken place. So, I'm certainly not going to demonize the Park Place Apartment owner who's filed the claim.

But to also name in the legal complaint a group of volunteer private citizens who have no legal stake in the matter, no legal claim to the public park, no legal involvementment except to sign on as volunteers in any future Adopt-A-Park agreement? What message does that send to private volunteers everywhere working hard to bring new public recreational opportunities to their communities?

And the second interesting wrinkle is this: If public parks in general go through the hoops before getting zoned and approved and built in the first place, What legal expectations do residents who live next door to a public park realistically have? If you're living next to a Sports Complex Public Park, for example, can you claim the city needs to do an EIR before it allows part of the park to be used for baseball games? Or puts in a soccor field somewhere in the park? Is the noise and traffic from a baseball game an unreasonable nuissance coming from a public park Sports Complex, or have those land use issues -- traffic, noises, kids, games, public gatherings, microphones, music, whatever -- all been covered and mediated for when the original park was planned and built?

Well, let's hope whatever wrinkles are involved can be worked out by the City in a win-win situation for all. And for heavens sake, MGFD Enterprises, take the volunteer Five Cities Dog Park Association OFF your legal complaint. They have nothing to do with EIRs or park/land use or anything else, unless you're intending this "claim" against them to be seen as a kind of intimidation tactic or SLAPP suit? In that case, shame on you.

Oddly enough, the county's dog parks have turned out to be extremly popular, clean, well maintained and well used and loved, even by people who don't have dogs, for one simple reason: Dog parks are PEOPLE parks, intensely social people-places. Which is a boon in our too-often isolated, rapidly urbanizing world.

And Finally, It Was Only A Matter Of Time -- Bye-Bye Old SLO Town

Yep, the bell has tolled: The $2 million verdict in the Paso Robles Acorn Building earthquake deaths, has reached SLOTown. In today's Trib: "A portion of Paso Robles' historic Acorn Building collapsed in the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake, killing two women. Despite retrofitting deadlines that were still years away, the jury found the owner of the building negligent.

"Copeland Properties said the company could no longer afford the liability of keeping tenants in the unreinforced masonry buildings," so Photography 101 and Costume Capers are being evicted from the old Blackstone Hotel building by April 11. (The building is slated to be torn down anyway, when the Chinatown project gets underway.)

But here's an unknown: The Acorn Building deaths occurred when the two employees ran outside to the sidewalk, and the wall fell on them. What liability do the Copelands still have to pedestrians on the sidewalk if their empty unreinforced masonry building falls on someone? If they're still liable, then empty or no, they're still in a pickle. So will the city block off the sidewalk as a potential danger? Indemnify them if the building's bricks fall on someone? Wait until it falls then the victim's families can sue the Copelands who will, in turn, sue the city for failure to block the sidewalk? Whaaaatt?

Naturally, the retrofit rebuild process for a lot of downtown buildings will make rents even more unaffordable for small businesses downtown, which will continue to fuel the Chain Store Syndrome, transforming SLOTown into a National Brands Mini-Mega-Outdoor Mall.

Too bad.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Heh-Heh, Just Kidding. Here's some placeboes. Don't call me in the morning.

As noted in yesterday's posting, Blue Cross had been sending out letters to its doctors asking them to "rat out" their new Blue Cross patients so they could dump them if they fessed up to having a "pre-existing condition," like they're pregnant and, heh-heh, "forgot" to mention that on their application form, and etc.

Well, doctors and even the Governorator had a cow. So, Blue Cross "abruptly halted its practice of asking physicians in a letter to look for medical condition that could be used to cancel patients' insurance coverage."

Heh-heh, guess BC was just kidding. Now the question for citizens of this fair land is this: Are they just kidding about getting a better health system in place or are they serious? Dead serious? Have they wised up enough not to be bamboozed by the insurance industry's "Harry & Louise" again? Are they ready to have a real dialogue with themselves and one another as to just what public benefits and Value of the Commons they want to buy and pay for and share as citizens?

This election and what happens afterwards in the money-greased, slippery Halls of Congress will tell.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Take Two Aspirin and Call Me In November.

The following was from AlterNet, and/or Tom Paine website. If Healthcare is going to be a major issue on the table this election, here’s some information from a Canadian about that country’s coverage. After the ’08 elections, American insurance companies will dust off “Harry & Louise” to scare us all to death that we’ll all die in the streets like dawgs if we even think about a “Medicare For All” type national health coverage, but before the lies start, maybe a little information is in order.

Additionally, while the dialogue is going on, people really need to think about the numbers – most especially the hidden numbers – cost to treat the uninsured, cost of not treating the uninsured until things reach a crisis stage, cost of lost productivity, cost of high “administrative fees” out of each health-care dollar that goes, not for health care, but for CEO salaries and high profits for investors, cost to businesses who have to compete with international national companies that have national health insurance while they’ve got the full cost of a private system on their books, the loss to the system of doctors leaving practice out of sheer frustration of dealing with the insurance mess, and so forth. Add those hidden costs up and compare them with what the Canadians pay, and the French and British, and then maybe we can have a national dialogue.

Oh, and while we’re talking, consider this recent headline: “Physicians enlisted in canceling insurance – Blue Cross asks doctors to look for conditions it can use to drop patients from medical coverage.” Naturally, doctors are objecting to this new plan. As one put it, “We’re outraged that they are asking doctors to violate the sacred trust of patients to rat them out for medical information that patients would expect their doctors to handle with the utmost secrecy and confidentiality.” Rat patients out so the bottom line of the insurance company looks better and the CEO can get another gazillion dollar raise? Hey, sounds like a first rate medical plan to me.

10 Myths About Canadian Health Care, Busted
By Sara Robinson, TomPaine.comPosted on February 5, 2008, Printed on February 7, 2008

2008 is shaping up to be the election year that we finally get to have the Great American Healthcare Debate again. Harry and Louise are back with a vengeance. Conservatives are rumbling around the talk show circuit bellowing about the socialist threat to the (literal) American body politic. And, as usual, Canada is once again getting dragged into the fracas, shoved around by both sides as either an exemplar or a warning -- and, along the way, getting coated with the obfuscating dust of so many willful misconceptions that the actual facts about How Canada Does It are completely lost in the melee.

I'm both a health-care-card-carrying Canadian resident and an uninsured American citizen who regularly sees doctors on both sides of the border. As such, I'm in a unique position to address the pros and cons of both systems first-hand. If we're going to have this conversation, it would be great if we could start out (for once) with actual facts, instead of ideological posturing, wishful thinking, hearsay, and random guessing about how things get done up here.

To that end, here's the first of a two-part series aimed at busting the common myths Americans routinely tell each other about Canadian health care. When the right-wing hysterics drag out these hoary old bogeymen, this time, we need to be armed and ready to blast them into straw. Because, mostly, straw is all they're made of.

1. Canada's health care system is "socialized medicine."False. In socialized medical systems, the doctors work directly for the state. In Canada (and many other countries with universal care), doctors run their own private practices, just like they do in the US. The only difference is that every doctor deals with one insurer, instead of 150. And that insurer is the provincial government, which is accountable to the legislature and the voters if the quality of coverage is allowed to slide. The proper term for this is "single-payer insurance." In talking to Americans about it, the better phrase is "Medicare for all."

2. Doctors are hurt financially by single-payer health care.True and False. Doctors in Canada do make less than their US counterparts. But they also have lower overhead, and usually much better working conditions. A few reasons for this:

First, as noted, they don't have to charge higher fees to cover the salary of a full-time staffer to deal with over a hundred different insurers, all of whom are bent on denying care whenever possible. In fact, most Canadian doctors get by quite nicely with just one assistant, who cheerfully handles the phones, mail, scheduling, patient reception, stocking, filing, and billing all by herself in the course of a standard workday.

Second, they don't have to spend several hours every day on the phone cajoling insurance company bean counters into doing the right thing by their patients. My doctor in California worked a 70-hour week: 35 hours seeing patients, and another 35 hours on the phone arguing with insurance companies. My Canadian doctor, on the other hand, works a 35-hour week, period. She files her invoices online, and the vast majority are simply paid -- quietly, quickly, and without hassle. There is no runaround. There are no fights. Appointments aren't interrupted by vexing phone calls. Care is seldom denied (because everybody knows the rules). She gets her checks on time, sees her patients on schedule, takes Thursdays off, and gets home in time for dinner.

One unsurprising side effect of all this is that the doctors I see here are, to a person, more focused, more relaxed, more generous with their time, more up-to-date in their specialties, and overall much less distracted from the real work of doctoring. You don't realize how much stress the American doctor-insurer fights put on the day-to-day quality of care until you see doctors who don't operate under that stress, because they never have to fight those battles at all. Amazingly: they seem to enjoy their jobs.

Third: The average American medical student graduates $140,000 in hock. The average Canadian doctor's debt is roughly half that.

Finally, Canadian doctors pay lower malpractice insurance fees. When paying for health care constitutes a one of a family's major expenses, expectations tend to run very high. A doctor's mistake not only damages the body; it may very well throw a middle-class family permanently into the ranks of the working poor, and render the victim uninsurable for life. With so much at stake, it's no wonder people are quick to rush to court for redress.

Canadians are far less likely to sue in the first place, since they're not having to absorb devastating financial losses in addition to any physical losses when something goes awry. The cost of the damaging treatment will be covered. So will the cost of fixing it. And, no matter what happens, the victim will remain insured for life. When lawsuits do occur, the awards don't have to include coverage for future medical costs, which reduces the insurance company's liability.

3. Wait times in Canada are horrendous.True and False again -- it depends on which province you live in, and what's wrong with you. Canada's health care system runs on federal guidelines that ensure uniform standards of care, but each territory and province administers its own program. Some provinces don't plan their facilities well enough; in those, you can have waits. Some do better. As a general rule, the farther north you live, the harder it is to get to care, simply because the doctors and hospitals are concentrated in the south. But that's just as true in any rural county in the U.S.

You can hear the bitching about it no matter where you live, though. The percentage of Canadians who'd consider giving up their beloved system consistently languishes in the single digits. A few years ago, a TV show asked Canadians to name the Greatest Canadian in history; and in a broad national consensus, they gave the honor to Tommy Douglas, the Saskatchewan premier who is considered the father of the country's health care system. (And no, it had nothing to do with the fact that he was also Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather.). In spite of that, though, grousing about health care is still unofficially Canada's third national sport after curling and hockey.

And for the country's newspapers, it's a prime watchdogging opportunity. Any little thing goes sideways at the local hospital, and it's on the front pages the next day. Those kinds of stories sell papers, because everyone is invested in that system and has a personal stake in how well it functions. The American system might benefit from this kind of constant scrutiny, because it's certainly one of the things that keeps the quality high. But it also makes people think it's far worse than it is.

Critics should be reminded that the American system is not exactly instant-on, either. When I lived in California, I had excellent insurance, and got my care through one of the best university-based systems in the nation. Yet I routinely had to wait anywhere from six to twelve weeks to get in to see a specialist. Non-emergency surgical waits could be anywhere from four weeks to four months. After two years in the BC system, I'm finding the experience to be pretty much comparable, and often better. The notable exception is MRIs, which were easy in California, but can take many months to get here. (It's the number one thing people go over the border for.) Other than that, urban Canadians get care about as fast as urban Americans do.

4. You have to wait forever to get a family doctor.False for the vast majority of Canadians, but True for a few. Again, it all depends on where you live. I live in suburban Vancouver, and there are any number of first-rate GPs in my neighborhood who are taking new patients. If you don't have a working relationship with one, but need to see a doctor now, there are 24-hour urgent care clinics in most neighborhoods that will usually get you in and out on the minor stuff in under an hour.

It is, absolutely, harder to get to a doctor if you live out in a small town, or up in the territories. But that's just as true in the U.S. -- and in America, the government won't cover the airfare for rural folk to come down to the city for needed treatment, which all the provincial plans do.

5. You don't get to choose your own doctor.Scurrilously False. Somebody, somewhere, is getting paid a lot of money to make this kind of stuff up. The cons love to scare the kids with stories about the government picking your doctor for you, and you don't get a choice. Be afraid! Be very afraid!

For the record: Canadians pick their own doctors, just like Americans do. And not only that: since it all pays the same, poor Canadians have exactly the same access to the country's top specialists that rich ones do.

6. Canada's care plan only covers the basics. You're still on your own for any extras, including prescription drugs. And you still have to pay for it.True -- but not as big an issue as you might think. The province does charge a small monthly premium (ours is $108/month for a family of four) for the basic coverage. However, most people never even have to write that check: almost all employers pick up the tab for their employees' premiums as part of the standard benefits package; and the province covers it for people on public assistance or disability.

"The basics" covered by this plan include 100% of all doctor's fees, ambulance fares, tests, and everything that happens in a hospital -- in other words, the really big-ticket items that routinely drive American families into bankruptcy. In BC, it doesn't include "extras" like medical equipment, prescriptions, physical therapy or chiropractic care, dental, vision, and so on; and if you want a private or semi-private room with TV and phone, that costs extra (about what you'd pay for a room in a middling hotel). That other stuff does add up; but it's far easier to afford if you're not having to cover the big expenses, too. Furthermore: you can deduct any out-of-pocket health expenses you do have to pay off your income taxes. And, as every American knows by now, drugs aren't nearly as expensive here, either.

Filling the gap between the basics and the extras is the job of the country's remaining private health insurers. Since they're off the hook for the ruinously expensive big-ticket items that can put their own profits at risk, the insurance companies make a tidy business out of offering inexpensive policies that cover all those smaller, more predictable expenses. Top-quality add-on policies typically run in the ballpark of $75 per person in a family per month -- about $300 for a family of four -- if you're stuck buying an individual plan. Group plans are cheap enough that even small employers can afford to offer them as a routine benefit. An average working Canadian with employer-paid basic care and supplemental insurance gets free coverage equal to the best policies now only offered at a few of America's largest corporations. And that employer is probably only paying a couple hundred dollars a month to provide that benefit.

7. Canadian drugs are not the same.More preposterious bogosity. They are exactly the same drugs, made by the same pharmaceutical companies, often in the same factories. The Canadian drug distribution system, however, has much tighter oversight; and pharmacies and pharmacists are more closely regulated. If there is a difference in Canadian drugs at all, they're actually likely to be safer.
Also: pharmacists here dispense what the doctors tell them to dispense, the first time, without moralizing. I know. It's amazing.

8. Publicly-funded programs will inevitably lead to rationed health care, particularly for the elderly.False. And bogglingly so. The papers would have a field day if there was the barest hint that this might be true.

One of the things that constantly amazes me here is how well-cared-for the elderly and disabled you see on the streets here are. No, these people are not being thrown out on the curb. In fact, they live longer, healthier, and more productive lives because they're getting a constant level of care that ensures small things get treated before they become big problems.

The health care system also makes it easier on their caregiving adult children, who have more time to look in on Mom and take her on outings because they aren't working 60-hour weeks trying to hold onto a job that gives them insurance.

9. People won't be responsible for their own health if they're not being forced to pay for the consequences.False. The philosophical basis of America's privatized health care system might best be characterized as medical Calvinism. It's fascinating to watch well-educated secularists who recoil at the Protestant obsession with personal virtue, prosperity as a cardinal sign of election by God, and total responsibility for one's own salvation turn into fire-eyed, moralizing True Believers when it comes to the subject of Taking Responsibility For One's Own Health.
They'll insist that health, like salvation, is entirely in our own hands. If you just have the character and self-discipline to stick to an abstemious regime of careful diet, clean living, and frequent sweat offerings to the Great Treadmill God, you'll never get sick. (Like all good theologies, there's even an unspoken promise of immortality: f you do it really really right, they imply, you might even live forever.) The virtuous Elect can be discerned by their svelte figures and low cholesterol numbers. From here, it's a short leap to the conviction that those who suffer from chronic conditions are victims of their own weaknesses, and simply getting what they deserve. Part of their punishment is being forced to pay for the expensive, heavily marketed pharmaceuticals needed to alleviate these avoidable illnesses. They can't complain. It was their own damned fault; and it's not our responsibility to pay for their sins. In fact, it's recently been suggested that they be shunned, lest they lead the virtuous into sin.

Of course, this is bad theology whether you're applying it to the state of one's soul or one's arteries. The fact is that bad genes, bad luck, and the ravages of age eventually take their toll on all of us -- even the most careful of us. The economics of the Canadian system reflect this very different philosophy: it's built on the belief that maintaining health is not an individual responsibility, but a collective one. Since none of us controls fate, the least we can do is be there for each other as our numbers come up.

This difference is expressed in a few different ways. First: Canadians tend to think of tending to one's health as one of your duties as a citizen. You do what's right because you don't want to take up space in the system, or put that burden on your fellow taxpayers. Second, "taking care of yourself" has a slightly expanded definition here, which includes a greater emphasis on public health. Canadians are serious about not coming to work if you're contagious, and seeing a doctor ASAP if you need to. Staying healthy includes not only diet and exercise; but also taking care to keep your germs to yourself, avoiding stress, and getting things treated while they're still small and cheap to fix.

Third, there's a somewhat larger awareness that stress leads to big-ticket illnesses -- and a somewhat lower cultural tolerance for employers who put people in high-stress situations. Nobody wants to pick up the tab for their greed. And finally, there's a generally greater acceptance on the part of both the elderly and their families that end-of-life heroics may be drawing resources away from people who might put them to better use. You can have them if you want them; but reasonable and compassionate people should be able to take the larger view.
The bottom line: When it comes to getting people to make healthy choices, appealing to their sense of the common good seems to work at least as well as Calvinist moralizing.

10. This all sounds great -- but the taxes to cover it are just unaffordable. And besides, isn't the system in bad financial shape?False. On one hand, our annual Canadian tax bite runs about 10% higher than our U.S. taxes did. On the other, we're not paying out the equivalent of two new car payments every month to keep the family insured here. When you balance out the difference, we're actually money ahead. When you factor in the greatly increased social stability that follows when everybody's getting their necessary health care, the impact on our quality of life becomes even more signficant.

And True -- but only because this is a universal truth that we need to make our peace with. Yes, the provincial plans are always struggling. So is every single publicly-funded health care system in the world, including the VA and Medicare. There's always tension between what the users of the system want, and what the taxpayers are willing to pay. The balance of power ebbs and flows between them; but no matter where it lies at any given moment, at least one of the pair is always going to be at least somewhat unhappy.

But, as many of us know all too well, there's also constant tension between what patients want and what private insurers are willing to pay. At least when it's in government hands, we can demand some accountability. And my experience in Canada has convinced me that this accountability is what makes all the difference between the two systems.

It is true that Canada's system is not the same as the U.S. system. It's designed to deliver a somewhat different product, to a population that has somewhat different expectations. But the end result is that the vast majority of Canadians get the vast majority of what they need the vast majority of the time. It'll be a good day when when Americans can hold their heads high and proudly make that same declaration.


Published on (
Mythbusting Canadian Healthcare, Part II: Debunking the Free Marketeers
By Sara Robinson
Created 02/11/2008 - 5:55pm

In the previous post, I looked at ten of the most common myths that get bandied about whenever Americans drag Canada into their ongoing discussions about healthcare. In this follow-up, I'd like to address a few of the larger assumptions that Americans make about health care that are contradicted by the Canadian example; and in the process offer some more general thinking (and perhaps talking) points that may be useful in the debates ahead.

Government-run health care is inherently less efficient -- because governments themselves are inherently less efficient.If anything could finally put the lie to this old conservative canard, the disaster that is our health care system is Exhibit A.

America spends about 15% of its GDP on health care. Most other industrialized countries (all of whom have some form of universal care, either single-payer or entirely government-run) spend about 11-12%. Canada spends about 8-9% -- and most of the problems within their system come out of the fact that it's chronically underfunded compared to those other nations. If they spent what the UK or Germany do, those problems would mostly vanish.

Any system that has people spending more and getting less is, by definition, not efficient. And these efficiency leaks are, almost entirely, due to private greed. There is no logical way that a private system can pay eight-figure CEO compensation packages, turn a handsome a profit for shareholders, and still be "efficient." In fact, in order to deliver those profits and salaries, the American system has built up a vast, Kafkaesque administrative machinery of approval, denial, and fraud management, which inflates the US system's administrative costs to well over double that seen in other countries -- or even in our own public systems, including Medicare and the VA system.

Not incidentally: one of the benefits of single-payer health care is that it largely eliminates the entire issue of "fraud." You can only "cheat" a system that already views its primary business as rationing and withholding care. In Canada, where the system is set up to deliver health care instead of profits, and medical access is considered a right, this whole oversight machinery is far cheaper and more compact. In general, the system trusts doctors and patients to make the right choices the first time. As a result, people generally don't have to lie, cheat, and grovel to get the system to deliver the care they need. They just go and get it -- and walk out without a moment's dread about the bills.

Shareholder profit, inflated CEO salaries, and top-heavy administration -- all of which serve to work against the delivery of care, not facilitate it -- are anti-efficiencies that siphon off 20-25% of America's total health care spending. These are huge sums; yet it's mostly money down a gold-plated rathole. In the end, it doesn't provide a single bed, pay a single nurse or doctor, or treat a single patient.

We'll have rationed careDon't look now: but America does ration care. And it does it in the most capricious, draconian, and often dishonest way possible.

Mostly, the US system rations care by simply eliminating large numbers of people from the system due to an inability to pay. Last year, one-quarter of all Americans didn't go to a doctor when they needed one because they couldn't afford it. Nearly that many skipped getting a test, treatment, prescription, or follow-up appointment recommended by a doctor. In Canada, those same numbers are in the 4-5% range; in the UK, 2-3%. Also: nearly 20% of all Americans had a hard time paying a medical bill last year; and these stresses now trigger over half of all personal bankruptcies in the country.

Furthermore, nominally having health insurance is no guarantee against financial ruin, as Sicko amply illustrated. Being cut off or denied by your insurance company is rationing, too. And there are vast numbers of fairly well-off Americans -- many of them middle-aged, and too young for Medicare -- who have pre-existing conditions that render them uninsurable at any price. They're one heart attack, one diabetic event, or one bad turn away from financial disaster. Please don't insult these people by telling them that the American system doesn't ration care.
Another persistent (and ridiculously mendacious) rationing myth about the Canadian system is that old people are cut off from treatment and left to die. I've never heard about a single case of this in Canada; but it happens routinely to Americans on Medicare and many private policies, which have strict limits on how long you can stay in the hospital with an acute illness. When the benefits run out, ready or not, they send you home. If you die, you die. The Canadian plan has no such limits: you stay for as long as you need to. But in the US, these limits fit the very definition of "rationed care."

Effectively shutting one-quarter of the population out of the medical system entirely, and putting many of the rest on short rations, certainly does make things so much nicer for those happy few who are still in it. In fact, Americans have these missing millions to thank for their system's impressively short wait times. Only 4% of American have to wait more than six months for non-elective surgeries, while 14-15% of Canadian and Britons do. (Don't blame this on government care, though: in Germany and the Netherlands, the number is closer to 2%.) When conservatives start bellowing about Canada's terrifying wait times (which, by the way, are carefully triaged: it's rare for people to die waiting, though it happens), we need to remind them that there are 75 million Americans who have been wait-listed forever. If my friend's Aunt Millie gets her emergency hip surgery today because I'm willing to hobble along for an extra couple months before getting my knee surgery -- well, for any morally serious person, that choice should be a complete no-brainer.

You can't have medical innovation without the incentives provided by the free market.As in the US, Canada's government funds major medical research that has led to a continuous stream of new medical breakthroughs [1]. (And as this link shows, the rate of innovation didn't slow down in the least when Canada moved to single-payer in the 1960s.) All of the country's medical schools are located within public research universities. The university that houses my local medical school, the University of British Columbia, ranked ninth in North America last year -- in league with UC, Stanford, and other powerhouses -- in total public and private research grants received by its labs. Among other things, it leads the way in genetics (David Suzuki is emeritus faculty), and stem-cell research (having attracted a handsome roster of American scientists whose research was thwarted by the political situation at home).

Because the Canadian health care system is driven by delivering care instead of profits, the focus of research is sometimes different -- and often wider-ranging. While there's plenty of pursuit of patents and innovations, there's also considerable research put into questioning whether new treatments are really more effective than older ones; and in pursuing possible treatments that may not be patentable by anyone. The system is focused first on what works; and after that, on what might make someone some money.

Single-payer health care will make America less competitive.I can't believe people still have the gall to argue this point, but apparently, they do. There are several reasons this is flat-out wrong:
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs -- It's no secret that public health care is making Canada a more attractive business environment for large manufacturers, who typically have very high insurance overhead. Toyota and GM have both moved plants to Canada in recent years, in large part to avoid the spiraling costs of insuring American workers. (Toyota also cited Canada's better-educated workers, but that's another issue for another day.) As long as $900 of every car GM makes is going to supply health care to the people who make it, the US's current system of employer-based health care is going to continue to drive skilled jobs out of the country.
A Smarter, More Entreprenurial Workforce -- Being relieved of insurance worries also makes individual citizens more competitive. How would your life choices change if you didn't have to worry about health care? Would you go back to school and get your PhD in lepidoptery? Start a blog -- or a small business? Work part-time and travel? Tell your boss where he can stick it? Spend a few years at home with your kids?

Countries with universal coverage free up their citizens to take advantage of personal development opportunities that, in the long run, stimulate the economy and create a more skilled, traveled, educated, and fulfilled workforce. Americans, on the other hand, routinely stay chained to jobs they hate -- and are forced to pass up on chances to expand their horizons and their fortunes -- because they can't afford to jeopardize their health care coverage. Our health care mess has reached a point where it jeopardizes not only our lives, but also our liberty and our ability to pursue happiness -- as well as the long-term strength of the economy as a whole.
Increased Financial and Social Capital -- When families are bankrupted by medical bills, or are thrown into poverty when a working member is disabled because they can't afford proper care, or simply break down and fall apart under the stress of debt and illness, it's not long before the country's entire social fabric begins to show the wear and tear -- along with the sense of optimism and the common good required for a democracy to function.

Part of what makes a country competitive is its own commitment to the common good. I've often been impressed by the very tangible sense of civic pride and shared effort my Canadian neighbors have in the fact that they're taking the best possible care of their own, regardless of status, age, or ethnicity. Every encounter with the medical system reminds them that they're all in this together. A medical system that routinely drives families into bankruptcy or divorce court is actively destroying, rather than adding to, the essential social capital that makes the whole society function.

No Deferred Maintenance -- Decades of foregone medical care are starting to catch up with Americans. We're seeing serious declines on many fronts: infant mortality, lifespan, cancer rates, heart disease rates, and increased diabetes. On most of the major markers of public health, America is nowhere near the top tier anymore. In some areas, there are a few small former Communist countries doing better than we are.

Business relies on healthy workers who aren't distracted by their own illness or that of a family member. America's uninsured, increasingly unhealthy workforce is in no position to compete on equal terms with the strong, healthy workers of other countries who are getting the care they deserve.

We have more important matters to tend to -- like national security and the war.Getting everyone insured is, unequivocally, a clear matter of national security.

Our every-man-for-himself attitude toward health care is a security threat on a par with unsecured ports. In Canada, people go see the doctor if they're sick for more than a day or two. It was this easy access to early treatment, along with the much tighter public health matrix that enables doctors to share information quickly, that allowed the country's health care system to detect the 2003 SARS epidemics in Toronto and Vancouver while they were still very localized, act within hours to stop them before the disease spread any further, and track down and treat exposed people before they got too sick to be helped. In both cases, the system worked flawlessly. The epidemic was stopped within days and quashed entirely in under a month, potentially saving of millions of lives.

In the U.S., that same epidemic might easily have gone unnoticed for critical days and weeks. If the first people to get sick were among those 75 million without adequate insurance, they probably would have toughed it out a few extra days before finally dragging their half-dead carcasses into an ER somewhere. Not only would they be much farther along in the course of the disease -- and thus at greater risk of death themselves -- every one of them could have infected dozens or even hundreds of other people in the meantime, accelerating the spread of the epidemic.

Worse: America's underfunded public health system might have taken several days to piece together the whole picture of an epidemic; and perhaps another week or two might have passed before the E. Coli conservatives in charge (having thrown out the science-based management plans thoughtfully developed by the bureaucracy) cooked up some kind of half-assed ideology-driven decision about how to proceed. (It would, of course, involve spectacular amounts of lying to the public.) By that point, tens of millions could have been infected, leading to a death toll that would make 9/11 and Katrina look like minor statistical blips.

Think about superbugs and the ongoing waves of immunological imports from the world's swamps and jungles. Think about terrorists with bioweapons. And then think again about the undeniable fact that every single underinsured American is a gaping hole in the safety net that protects us all from a catastrophic epidemic. This really is one of those cases in which none of us are safe as long as even one of us is left at risk. And from a purely economic standpoint: would you want to invest in a country where there was a significant risk that an epidemic or a bio-attack, managed by incompetent officials, might force you to shut down your business at a moment's notice?

As for the war: Bush's Folly will generate upwards of half a million veterans, many of whom will require some kind of sustaining care for the rest of their lives. VA funding ebbs and flows with the national political will, and veterans often fall behind other priorities. But if they can enter the same health care system every other American depends on, then we can only forget their interests by forgetting our own as well.

I feel a lot better knowing my taxes are taking care of my fellow Canadians rather than buying bombs to drop on Iraqi towns, supporting a fully-equipped CIA gulag, or funding Baghdad pizza deliveries via Halliburton. It's hard to become a worldwide empire when you're putting half your tax revenue into hospitals and doctors, as Canada does. But, on the other hand, it's hard to insure your citizens when half your tax revenue is going to feed your war machine.

In a very real sense, America has chosen to secure its oil supply at the cost of its own citizens' health. The more we spend on the former, the less we have for the latter. And our own relative health -- both physical and economic -- is starting to show the consequences of that choice. Ultimately, all these things are connected: by making ourselves energy independent, we might not only make ourselves more secure, we'll also finally be able to invest in the kind of health care that will make us truly competitive in the world community.

The Bottom LineIn America, a lucky employee with gold-plated employer-based coverage may well get access to A-level care (though that level of coverage becoming rarer by the month, even among the professional classes). On the other hand, about 50 million under-insured Americans are barely scraping by with C or D-level care; and the nearly 50 million with no insurance at all get next to no care whatsoever. Worst of all: 18,000 Americans die every year due to lack of access to healthcare. That's one every 30 minutes, around the clock, every day of the year -- the equivalent death toll of six 9/11s every single year that passes.

In Canada, everybody gets at least B-level care, pretty consistently across the board -- and, on occasion, quite a bit better than that. You might not like those odds if you're one of the shrinking handful of Americans who's used to A-level care; but if that's not you, you'd be getting a much better deal in Canada.

The private sector has had 20 years to prove that it could deliver low-cost, quality care using those vaunted business-style efficiencies; and it has failed us utterly and completely. This fact should be the ultimate nail in the coffin of the old conservative canard that "the free market always does it better." If that was true, privatizing health care would have been the shining example that proved it once and for all. Instead, all we got was a colossally expensive national disaster that's denying full coverage to a third of the country --- and putting our health, competitiveness, financial and social capital, and national security at risk in the process. It's also devastating the aspirations of our entire middle class, which is being hollowed out by our current health policies.

A famous Hebrew prophet once advised his followers to take the log out of their own eyes before trying to remove the splinter from someone else's. As much as it hurts American pride to admit it, Canada and the rest of the industrialized world has us roundly beat on this one. Those who are so quick to criticize the Canadian system might be better off holding their fire until they've shown us they can do better. America, and the world, is waiting.

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Sara Robinson is a twenty-year veteran of Silicon Valley, and is launching a second career as a strategic foresight analyst. When she's not studying change theories and reactionary movements, you can find her singing the alto part over at Orcinus. She lives in Vancouver, BC with her husband and two teenagers.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It's Official Now: Los Osos WILL Be Having More Fun

The Los Osos Bridge Bears, those beautiful Paula Zima statues that grace the north and south entrance of our fair burg, have been refurbished. From being a dark, growly, grizzly grey-brown, they've been repainted orangy, honey BLOND.

The good times can now roll here in Clairol's Woopie-Town By The Bay.

It's Also Official Now, Mark Low Has His Own Blogsite

Yes, instead of dropping long, involved postings into this blogsite's "comment" section, like some cuckoo bird dropping off eggs in another bird's nest -- much to the gnashing of teeth of many of this site's readers -- Mark has his own site at He's certainly free, like most commentors, to post comments here and if he has any interesting documents, simply note the link and that way folks can go visit his site to read whatever lengthy thing he might have posted there. Win-win.

More Official from The Department of Whaaaaa???

The following was emailed from a friend up near SF, a note from the SF Chronicle:

> Chronicle, today>> BAYKEEPER RAISING A STINK OVER SEWAGE>> It's suing Burlingame on discharge, starting spill-prevention push>> "An environmental group is filing suit against the city of > Burlingame today, charging that the city's antiquated sewer system > frequently spills raw sewage onto city streets and that its > treatment plant illegally discharged more than 10 million gallons > of wastewater into the bay over he past 16 years.>> "The non-profit also accuses the city of, during heavy rains, > discharging wastewater - which includes "unacceptably high amounts > of human waste, bacteria and chemicals" - into the bay through an > illegal pipeline just north of Coyote Point.>> Guess the shit has hit the fan, so to speak.>> Stand by now for furious finger pointing!

My comment to this was, I wonder why one of the local [private] "Baykeeper" units was the one suing and not The Regional Water Quality Control Board. Isn't that their job? Oh, wait, they're likely too busy hammering The Los Osos 45 to bother about leaking sewer systems and illegal pipelines up Burlingame way.

Story does point up a simple fact, however: Antiquated, poorly monitored and maintained and repaired and updated sewer systems are a problem everywhere. Yet another reason for municipalities take a leap into the 21st century and get proactive about the new technologies out there for upgrades and better ways to skin and treat the sewage cat.

And Finally, Time To Butt Out?

A group of kids is starting a movement to get smoking banned in Morro Bay's public parks. Today's Tribune editorial endorses the move. Problem comes with the mess associated with cigarette butts left on the ground by irresponsible smokers. That, and setting an example to kids who use the park that smoking in public places is, well, feh, just not socially acceptable anymore.

This particular push is now about the City of Morro Bay. But can county parks be far behind? And State Beaches? And other City parks?

If I'm not mistaken, wasn't SLO City the or one of the first to ban smoking inside public spaces? If enough county-wide residents start a similar ban in their city parks and then onto the county parks, SLO might again make the national news.

So, what about it? Would a county/city-wide ban on smoking in public parks and on beaches be another "progressive" civic move to encourage and/or codify changing social behaviors, or just another plot by PC Nazis and Big Guv'ment Liberals to take away citizens rights?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

And Now, Your Sunday Poem

This one by Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prisz winner for Poetry, from her book "American Primitive."


Under the leaves, under
the first loose
levels of earth
they're there -- quick
as beetles, blind
as bats, shy
as hares, but seen
less than these --
among the pale girders
of appleroot,
rockshelf, nests
of insects and black
pastures of bulbs
peppery and packed full
of the sweetest food:
spring flowers.
Field after field
you can see the traceries
of their long
lonely walks, then
the rains blur
even this frail
hint of them --
so excitable,
so plush,
so willing to continue
generation after generation
accomplishing nothing
but their brief physical lives
as they live and die,
pushing and shoveling
with their stubborn muzzles against
the whole earth,
finding it

Pass me that Violin

Last night's performance of Cafe Musique at the L.O. Methodist Church was standing room only, and absolutely wonderful. I suspect they may have sold out their new CD as well, the debut of which was the reason for the concert.

This group of extraordinary muscians (Brynn Albanese, Piper Heisig, Duane Inglish and Craig Nuttycombe) have pulled off a really interesting thing. They have taken music that, through misuse, abuse, too much use, has turned into a joke and/or awful cliche -- think accordian & violin playing "Hernado's Hideway," or even "Lady of Spain." (Full disclosure here: I played the accordian as a kid, loved it, though how my parents survived years of "La Golandrino" is beyond me.) But there they are with these awful, abused "gypsy/tango" pieces that we immediately associate with Lawrence Welk and/or bad Grade B movies about spies, doomed lovers, and a Nazi or two in a smokey cafe, yet by taking the music seriously, they've reclaimed its heart and passionate (uncliched) romantic soul so that they make you hear it as if for the first time.

Quite amazing. So if you have a chance to catch any of their performances, don't miss them. Much fun, lovely, tuneful work by extraordinarily skilled musicians, especially Brynn-- that woman can fiddle and it's her violin's heart-voice that re-births these songs anew, along with Duane's gorgeous accordian work.

Red Barn goes Bluegrass

On the first Saturday of the month, the Red Barn hosts a changing variety of wonderful musicians, but this Sat, there'll be be an extra Red Barn performance, Feb 16 at the Red Barn on LOVR at Palisades. Tom and Patrick Sauber, with Mark Graham will be on hand to raise the bluegrass roof. Folks arrive at 6 for a potluck supper and pre-show jam session, and show begins at 7. (Note here: Patrick Sauber will be playing the accordian, for those folks who are allergic to it, i.e. "Play the accordian, go to jail. It's the law!")

Also remember, you can buy Gift Certificates to Red Barn performances complete with the year's schedule, at the door ($10 suggested donations). So if you have any birthdays coming up, anniversaries, whatever, keep that in mind. For music lovers on your list, they make a perfect gift: They can pick which performances they want to see.

Shaky Puzzle

Today's Tribune Editorial on the recent verdict in the earthquake case when the Acorn Building in Paso Robles collaped and killed two woman who ran outside the building to the sidewalk where the building's wall fell on them (horrible irony, had they stayed inside the "unsafe" building, they likely would have lived?). The jury awarded damages to the families, and the Tribune notes that "The verdict clearly signaled that owners are ultimately responsible for the safety of their commercial buildings -- regardless of whether local law gives them five, 10 or 20 years to comlplete seismic strengthening."

Here's the puzzle: Aren't property owners (on property used by the public) always liable for whatever happens on their property, from someone slipping and falling to buildings collapsing. I know of no building that is completely earthquake safe, not even retro-fitted buildings. In an earthquake something can always go wrong, so even if a newly retrofitted building doesn't actually fall down, someone can still get injured and/or killed from flying shelves, falling light fixtures, pipes bursting, something. Hence getting liability insurance and earthquake insurance and other such protections.

Where this story got odd for me is the puzzle over whether the owners of the Acorn building were being hammered specifically (beyond the "normal" liability issues) because they hadn't yet completed the retrofit, even though the local law had given them until a certain date to complete the seismic retrofits. If that was the case, then something seems goofy to me with this lawsuit.

I could understand a jury awarding additional financial penalties for contributary negligence if they had evidence that the owner not only had done nothing but had passed the normal time limit to get anything done -- i.e. Planning departments can give anyone a target time for which projects have a chance of getting done; pass that and even an act of God won't get the job done in time. So, was there evidence the Acorn's owners had done nothing past that "break-point," which would clearly show "dragging their feet," which can translate into "negligence." If not, if they were "working on it" and the law gave them until such and such date, and they had enough time to complete the job even with a worst case scenario, then that raises a puzzle that was noted in the Tribune "WebTalk" sidebar: "If the verdict of the jury stands, the only logical thing to do is to start tomorrow to condemn buildings and rebuild or turn them into vacant lots. This would be the only 100 percent safe thing to do."

Which raises the issue of just what deadlines set by law actually mean? When does negligence or "feet dragging" come into play? Were the retrofit laws written with both a drop-dead deadline and legally required "marker" dates, i.e. X % done by 2008, Y% done by 20010 and so forth.

Well, if the case is appealed, maybe a judge can sort out some of those issues. And maybe our local lawmakers may need to take another look at the retrofit law and see if it needs to be clarified or tweaked to help both public and property owners? In a shaky state, no building is "safe." Maybe that's why God invented insurance companies and lawyers and sign makers.

And why anyone entering any building in this state should wear a hard hat and say a prayer at all times.