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July 2, 2014

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Bulletin, Record, Progressive, Reporter Wednesday, July 2, 2014 91B COMMUNITY PERSPECTIVE Lessons Congress should learn from VA scandal Like other federal scandals before it, the mess involving VA hospitals has followed a well-trod path. First comes the revelation of misdoing. Then comes the reaction: a shocked public, an administration on the defensive, grandstanding members of Congress. Finally, major reform bills get introduced, debated, then put aside when the heat dies down, or the target agency gets more money thrown at the problem. With the VA, we're at the reform part of the cycle. The House and Senate have each passed their own legislation to fix the VA's health system, including a massive infusion of money -- at least $50 billion a year -- to allow veterans to seek private health care. Fiscal watchdogs are crying foul, and the measures have ignited a furious debate over whether Congress should cut other programs. In -its WHERE I STAND ,LEE HAMILTON DIRECTOR INDIANA UNIVERSITY CENTER ON CONGRESS rush to address public outrage, Congress is proposing dramatic changes that could have benefited from more thorough consideration. The irony is that this need not have happened -- not with the VA, nor with the IRS or FEMA, or any of the other cases in recent years where the federal bureaucracy proved to be dysfunctional and Congress rushed in with a half-baked fix. Mostly what is needed is or Congress to do its job properly in the first place.. This means exercising its oversight responsibilities and catching problems before they mushroom. Diligent oversight can repair unresponsive bureaucracies, expose misconduct, and help agencies and departments become more effective. A lot of federal employees are doing good work, including at the VA; Congress needs to encourage that work while ridding the government of shoddy practices. To do this, it fn'st needs to know what's happening. Each committee and subcommittee with oversight responsibility should be keeping track -- on a close, even intimate basis -- of the department and agencies in its purview. Performance, budget, personnel, management challenges, major and minor problems: members of Congress ought to be experts on them all. They should also listen carefully to their constituents and interest groups focused on the performance of a particular agency, which are often in a position to give Congress valuable information. Understanding the facts, working cooperatively with the federal agency, and anticipating problems is a far more useful approach than Congress's usual pattern of throwing up its hands at a scandal and blaming everyone else for the problem. The crush of demand for VA services in the wake of two wars was easily foreseeable. Had Congress been on its toes, it could have reacted to it. Congress must also get serious about reforming the federal bureaucracy. It needs to be careful not to indulge in bureaucrat*bashing, but federal managers do need more flexibility with personnel systems than they currently enjoy. Federal employees deserve to feel they're being listened to, respected, and treated fairly, but management also must have flexibility to hire and In'e, and to handle personnel problems proactively. Congress also has to insist that these agencies are training, recruiting and retaining the necessary talent. These are immense agencies. The VA is the nation's largest health-care system. In 2012, it dealt with 83.6 million outpatient visits. Its proposed budget for 2015 is $164 billion, and it employs more than 300,000 people. This is work on a scale most of us can barely imagine. Mistakes are bound to happen. This may be an argmnent for thoroughgoing administrative reform, but it is also a fact Congress can't ignore: if it wants federal agencies to work better, it has to work tirelessly to understand problems and address them before they explode. Does the agency have adequate resources? How can it control bloat and tighten the gap between the people at the top and people on the front line? Are there problems that need addressing right now? Congress cannot eliminate politics from this oversight process, but politics should not drive the whole oversight enterprise. The point is that many failures of the federal bureaucracy can be avoided with robust congressional oversight. It's a cruci part of improving the performance of government, and Congress has a duty to get ahead of problems, not lag constantly behind. Unless it's willing to accept its responsibility for diligent oversight, the next scandal is only a matter of time. Lee Hamilton is Director of" the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. Take a hike; nature is the best drug out there For the first decade that I suffered from severe and almost daffy migraines, I didn't consider them a gift. Yet, in a way -- a very painful one -- they are. My headaches began setting me apart from the rest of society at the age of 15. Back in 1996, my brother got a Nintendo 64. Eager to try it out, I begged him to give me a turn. But it was unmistakable -- watching the screen gave me headaches. Everyone who gets migraines has a different "trigger" -- a food, a smell, lack of sleep. My triggers are all visual and luminescent: looking at fluorescent lights, TV and movies. That keeps me out of gyms, some stores and restaurants, anleven some WHERE I STAND JILL RICHARDSON COLUMNIST/AUTHOR jobs. In 2006, after trying 20 medications with limited success, my doctor gave me the prescription I'd needed all along. "Unless you exercise outdoors for 30 minutes a day, there is no pill I can give you that will help." At fn'st my 30 minutes of daffy exercise consisted of brisk walks in my neighborhood, but I can't say I enjoyed them. Then I discovered hiking. Growing up in the Midwest, I wasn't an outdoorsy kid. I was like manY Americans: I sat on the couch. I watched TV. I read Going outside meant getting dirty, or sweaty, or hot, or cold' or bitten by mosquitoes. Maybe other people liked that, but not me. Hiking where I live now, Southern California, is a different story. The weather is perfect and there aren't any mosquitoes. It's like a gateway drug to loving nature. And truly, nature is the best drug out there. Studies now show that spending time in nature -- with or without exercise -- provides cognitive and psychological benefits. Even looking out the window at trees can help. Apparently, after forcing yourself to pay attention to things you must focus on (work, books. I played board games. ' instructions from doctors, income tax forms), you become mentally fatigued. Sleep provides some relief, but not enough. Nature, it turns out, provides your brain the restoration it requires to get back to concentrating on that important stuff again. Another study found that spending just 20 minutes in nature reduced stress -- and stress is a major risk factor in many diseases since it suppresses your immune system. But science is telling us what people who love the outdoors intuitively know. I often refer to "my mountain" (where I hike almost daffy) as my gym, my church, my social scene and my classroom. And wildflower season is "my Christmas." For some people, turning off the TV and getting outside requires willpower. Not for me. If I watched a "Breaking Bad" marathon instead of hiking, I'd pay for it with a crippling migraine. By forcing me to get outside, my migraines gave me the impetus needed to figure out how to get outside in ways that make me happy. It's a matter of trial and error, fmding the right gear, activities and companions to meet your needs, and learning how to deal with nature even though you utterly cannot control it. Years ago, I would have been terrified to meet a rattlesnake on a trail. Now, I whip out my camera when I see one. Most people don't have migraines or doctors wise enough to prescribe nature as medicine. As much as I love my mountain, I had to be forced to go fmd it. Without debilitating headaches, I would have stayed indoors on the couch. My migraines are only a more pronounced warning sign of a truth everyone must accept: We all need to get outdoors to stay healthy. For our bodies, yes, but also for our minds and our spirits. Your soul is hungry for nature. Go feed it! Other Words columnist Jill Richardson is the author of "Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It." Read.more at LETTERS to the EDITOR Guidelines for Letters All letters must contain an address and a phone number. We publish only one letter per week per person and only one letter per person per month regarding the same subject. We do not publish third-party, anonymous, or open letters. Letters must be limited to a maximum of 300 words. The editor will cut any letter in excess of 300 words. The deadline is Friday at 3 p.m. (Deadlines may change due to holidays.) Letters may be taken to any of Feather Publishing's offices, sent via fax to 283-3952, or e-mailed to m. Get on board, Portola An open letter to the Portola City Council. You are going about this LAFCo matter the long and hard way. The state legislature isn't going to change the laws for the city of Portola regarding LAFCo funding; the Board Of Supervisors can in one meeting. The state is a Democrat oligarchy. Your plan is as flawed as the person that thought it up. What's really contemptible? You knew your plan was flawed, but you wanted to look like you're doing something, so it will go away. No surprise to me, the Special Districts agreed with my plan (as you once did) to change the LAFCo funding to a "per capita" basis. You were given false advice. So get on board by contacting the Special Districts Association, make the right decision for the second time; do it for the people that elected you. Forget the disdain I have for your council; save the city $46,000. Do something so your four years as a councilman aren't wasted. One more poorly thought out item. You've chosen to cut back on the sheriffs coverage and replace him with the Community Service Offmer. No offense, but a woman wearing a flak vest, driving a SUV, doesn't replace a deputy sheriff. Now, Idisagree with the local sheriffprofusely (he gave me my first-ever parking ticket, last week) but he's far more qualified (for the money). After you save the money from LAFCO you can afford the deputy, but that may make way too much sense. Humorous Aside: Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, upon meeting the Scarecrow, Tin man and Lion, exclaims "No Brains, No Heart, no Courage, so you're Democrats... right?" Trent Saxton Lake Davis Kickin' Cancer The weekend before last, June 21 - 22, I was privileged to take part in the annual Relay For Life at Feather River College. It was the 29th year for the national event, and the 16th year it has been held in Quincy. The Relay For Life began, and continues today, as a grassroots effort to raise money for cancer research. The number of sponsors, contributors and event participants responsible for the success of this 24-hour event are far too numerous to list, much less thank in a letter to the editor. That being said, local event co-Chairs Jennifer Merrill and Vickie Poh's names have to be mentioned in their roles of the hard-working, sleep-deprived leaders that we seem so lucky to have each year. Vickie's personal story of struggle and loss at the beginning of Saturday night's Luminaria Ceremony touched the hearts of everyone at the event, but it was by no means unique. All who attended have felt the pain caused by cancer, either personally or through a loved one. The mystery-- to me -- is not how many people have been affected by cancer, but how it could be that more people are not actively involved in the battle to defeat this monster. Together, Plumas County's teams raised over $42,000 for the 2014 Relay For Life, money that will be invested in the continuing fight. In the midst of the final tally and the personal and team awards that were handed out on Sunday morning for exemplary efforts, here was a lingering sadness. Not just because we see many of our fellow participants just this one time each year, but because recent Relays have seen fewer and fewer teams taking part. Sure, it is the beginning of summer -- yes, there are so many things to do -- and yes, we did that last year and, of course, we support what you're doing, but... Cancer doesn't care what your schedule is. R will slip into your life and brutally take away someone you know, someone you love, someone you cannot imagine living without, until we do fred a cure. This won't happen today or tomorrow and it won't happen all at once, but with efforts like this year's Relay and your help, it will happen. It has to. John Kolb, Team Member Plumas Bank Dream Team Quincy Cold move Perhaps the only bright spot in our relations with Russia during the Cold War was the eventual cooperation among the space scientists of both countries. However, the long-standing accepted unwritten law that space would be free from any national politics has ended. Putin's ban on American involvement on Mir and America's quick response has brought the new version of the Cold War to space. I fmd Putin's ban childish if not tragic. On another note, the non-news regarding the missing flight MH370 goes on with much rehashing and a great deal of new angles that are proved to be not so the day after they are reported. What if Murdoch is right? He suggested that the plane is probably safely hidden somewhere in Pakistan. Salvatore Catalano Taylorsville Freedoms then and now One letter last week asserted that we had "more freedom in the fifties." While I agree that the chances of a telephone conversation being tapped were much lower, and being able to fill the tank of your Chrysler, Ford or Chevy for less than five bucks provided many with the freedom to travel, I'd have to point out that many freedoms were not enjoyed by all. The precedent set by "Plessy vs. Ferguson," May 18, 1896, was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 17, 1954, in "Brown vs. Board of Education." It was three years later, under not very pleasant circumstances, that the Little Rock Nine began attending Central High. The fifties were history when James Meredith entered the University of Mississippi, October 1, 1962. That came after a lawsuit by the NAACP in 1961, and a directive by the board of trustees in 1962. Mr. Meredith's first days at Ole Miss Were also not very pleasant. So the question about the "freedom of the fifties" is: for whom? The Voting and Civil Rights Acts weren't passed into law until 1964. Now, 50 years later, in some locations in particular states, I've read, the lines for the polling place stretches for three-quarters of a mile. Yes, you have the right to vote, but no, there aren't mail-in or absentee ballots, and no, there won't be extended hours for the polling place. So, in terms of having the right to vote, I guess you could call it a draw between the fabulous 50s and the tremendous twenty-teens. Make sure to enjoy your freedoms responsibly over the Fourth of July weekend. Gene Nleisen Crescent Mills Intentional decline According to the June Gallup poll, the congressional approval rating has dropped to 16 percent -- an all time low. The reason for this pathetic rating is obvious. This is the 'do nothing Congress'. America and our planet have serious problems and yet Congress does nothing to address the issues. It is important to understand how Congress operates. There are 232 Republicans and 199 Democrats in the House of Representatives. The Republicans have the majority and therefore control every aspect of the House. House committees are chaired by the majority and have the most members. The majority also decides See Letters, page 10B Contact your elected officials... PLUMAS COUNTY SUPERVISORS - 520 Main Street, Room 309., Quincy, CA 95971; (530) 283-6170; FAX: (530) 283-6288; E-Mail: Individual supervisors can also be e-mailed from links on the county website, PRESIDENT - Barack Obama, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, D.C. 20500. (202) 456-1414. Fax: 202-456-2461. E-mail: U.S. SENATOR - Dianne Feinstein (D), 331 Hart Senate Office Bldg., Washington, D.C. 20510. (202) 224-3641; FAX: 202-228-3954; TTY/TDD: (202) 224-2501. District Office: One Post Street, Suite 2450, San Francisco, CA 94104; Phone: (415) 393-0707; Fax: (415) 393-0710i Website: U.S. SENATOR - Barbara Boxer 02)). District Office: 501 1 St., Suite 7-600, Sacramento, CA 95814. (916) 448-2787; FAX (916) 448-2563; OR 112 Hart Bldg., Washington, D.C. 20510. (202) 224-3553. FAX (202) 228-0454. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, 1ST DIST. - Doug LaMalfa. 506 Cannon HOB Washington, D.C. 20515. (202) 225-3076., i DISTRICT OFFICES: 1453 Downer St., Suite #A, Oroville, CA 95965; 2885i Churn Creek R., Suite #C, Redding, CA 96002. STATE SENATOR, 1st DIST. - Ted Gaines. State Capitol, Room 3070, Sacramento, CA 95814. (916) 651-4001, FAX: (916) 324-2680. E1 Dorado Hills Constituent Service Center. 4359 Town Center Boulevard, Suite 112, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762. (916) 933-7213, FAX (916) 933-7234; Redding Constituent Service Center. 1670 Market St., Suite 244, Redding, CA 96001, (530) 225-3142, FAX (530) 225-3143. STATE ASSEMBLYMAN, 1ST DIST. - Brian Dahle, State Capitol, Room 2174, Sacramento, CA 94249, (916) 319-2001; FAX (916) 319-2103. District Office, 2080 Hemsted Dr., Ste. #110, Redding, CA 96002; (530) 223-6300, FAX (530) 223-6737. GOVERNOR - Jerry Brown, office of the Governor, State i Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814. Website: (916) 445-2841. FAX: (916) 558-3160.