Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The League of Women Voters and Your November Ballot

On November 8th we Californians in West Marin will be voting on 17 propositions, in addition to choosing a candidate for President, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the California State Assembly, a Marin Superior Court Judge, and a Supervisor for our district.  Based on your political orientation, you probably already know how you will vote on many of these candidates.  But – how will you figure out how to vote on the 17 propositions? Direct democracy in California has made our choices more plentiful, and also much more difficult.  You may remember on past ballots that you can read careful, reasoned arguments by the League of Women Voters.  Who are they, and how did this come to be? 

The League of Women Voters was founded in1920 during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The convention was held just six months before the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote after a 72-year struggle. The League was designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters. From the beginning, it has been an activist, grassroots organization whose leaders believed that citizens should play a critical role in advocacy. It was then, and is now, a nonpartisan organization. It takes a stand on issues, but does not endorse candidates. However, League members are encouraged to be political themselves, by educating citizens about, and lobbying for, government and social reform legislation.  For example, the League is for universal healthcare, campaign finance reform, action on climate change, gun control and abortion rights.

Most of the League’s work is done by volunteers, both women and men. This year, members in all 50 states are working on registering new voters and getting out the vote.  You can use the League's website for information in every state.

About those 17 Propositions:  you will see the League’s recommendations for at least 11of them on the ballot that will be mailed to you before the election.  For the 6 that are not included, you will need to look at the arguments pro and con and their authors on your ballot. In addition to the League’s analyses, you can go to their website votersedge.org to find out who contributes to all the propositions, and the amounts.  For example, Proposition 56 would increase the tax on cigarettes by $2 per pack, to fund healthcare, tobacco use prevention, research and law enforcement.  The Yes campaign has raised $17 million , mainly from hospitals and health care organizations, which are listed, with amounts given.  The No campaign has raised $35.5 million, entirely from tobacco companies.  Proposition 61 would restrict the amount any state agency could pay for drugs to what is paid by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.  Opponents of 61 have out contributed supporters by 15 to one, and are many of the country’s large pharmaceutical corporations.  Supporters include Bernie Sanders, Robert Reich, the California Nurses Association, and many country Democratic parties.  Contributions so far exceed $68 million; money spent on this proposition may exceed any amount spent so far in California history.

Here’s another one, to make you laugh, or cry, before you finish reading. 
Proposition 60 will require performers in adult films to use condoms during the filming of sexual intercourse.   Funding for support exceeds that of the opposition so far. No on 60 contributors include Californians Against Worker Harassment and the Free Speech Coalition.  Yes funds are from the AIDS Foundation. When you make up your mind about this one, think about sexually transmitted disease, AIDS, pregnancy, and the positive influence on viewers of seeing condom use, or at any rate knowing about it. 

You can support the League of Women Voters online, or become a volunteer. I’m so glad women got the vote , about 100 years ago, after a huge struggle. The League has been going ever since.

Sadja Greenwood MD, MPH  back issues on this blog

Monday, August 8, 2016

Testing of Food for Roundup to Begin

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the nation’s chief food safety regulator, plans to start testing certain foods for residues of the world’s most widely used weed killer, Roundup (chemical name – glyphosate).  The FDA move comes after the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) pushed for such an assessment, and rebuked the FDA for not disclosing its short-coming to the public.  The issue is important because the world authority on cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the herbicide glyphosate ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ in its latest expert assessment.

FDA officials dubbed the issue ‘sensitive’ and declined to provide many details of the plans, but they do state that they are considering assignments for Fiscal Year 2016 to measure glyphosate in soybeans, corn, milk, and eggs, and other potential foods. Soybeans, sugar beets and corn are commonly sprayed with glyphosate, the most commonly used agricultural herbicide.

Private companies, academics, and consumer groups are also testing for glyphosate residues  and have recently claimed to have detected such residues in honey, cereal, wheat flour, soy sauce, infant formula, breast milk and other substances.

Since over 90% of corn and soy grown in the US is genetically modified to accept the spraying of  Roundup, most packaged food contains these GMO crops.   Vermont recently passed a law, effective July !st, 2016, to require labeling of foods containing GMO products.  However, this law was opposed by the food industry and a majority of members of Congress.  They countered with a bill, signed into law by President Obama, which allowed food companies to use QR codes instead of words on the package.  A QR code is an array of black and white squares that can be read by a smart phone, after the application is downloaded. Clearly this revision of the Vermont law will make in unlikely that most consumers will know whether there are genetically modified products – generally from corn, soy and sugars - in their packaged foods.  For many people looking for transparency and the right to know, this is  distressing.  Stay tuned, I will write more about this topic in future columns.
Sadja Greenwood, MD,MPH