WHEN DOING GOOD ISN’T--From Warren Buffett to Bill Gates, it is no secret that the ultra-rich philanthropist class has an over-sized influence in shaping global politics and policies.

And a study (pdf) just out from the Global Policy Forum, an international watchdog group, makes the case that powerful philanthropic foundations—under the control of wealthy individuals—are actively undermining governments and inappropriately setting the agenda for international bodies like the United Nations.

The top 27 largest foundations together possess assets of over $360 billion, notes the study, authored by Jens Martens and Karolin Seitz. Nineteen of those foundations are based in the United States and, across the board, they are expanding their influence over the global south. And in so doing, they are undermining democracy and local sovereignty.

Notably, foundation spending on global development is skyrocketing, jumping from $3 billion per year over a decade ago to $10 billion today. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation leads the way, giving $2.6 billion in 2012, the report notes. In addition, the Gates Foundation is the largest non-state funder of the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, many of the wealthiest people on the planet are individually jumping into the fray, with 137 billionaires from 14 countries last year pledging large sums to philanthropy. Some among them, like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have been criticized for abusing their power and influence in pursuit of questionable policies.

"If these and more ultra rich fulfill their pledges, many billions of dollars will be made available for charitable purposes," the authors argue. "It must be noted, however, that the increase in philanthropic giving is just the other side of the coin of growing inequality between rich and poor."

As political scientist Gary Olson argued Friday in Common Dreams, "Just to be clear, some Big Philanthropists have done some good work. However, as Peter Buffet (Warren Buffet's son) has argued, philanthropy is largely about letting billionaires feel better about themselves, a form of 'conscience laundering' that simultaneously functions to 'keep the existing system of inequality in place...' by shaping the culture.  

What's more, the report warns, "The influence of large foundations in shaping the global development agenda, including health, food, nutrition, and agriculture...raises a number of concerns in terms of how it is affecting governments and the UN development system."

The risks of "philanthrocapitalism" are manifold, the researchers argue, including: "fragmentation and weakening of global governance"; "unstable financing"; and "lack of monitoring and accountability mechanisms."

"What is the impact of framing the problems and defining development solutions by applying the business logic of profit-making institutions to philanthropic activities, for instance by results-based management or the focus on technological quick-win solutions in the sectors of health and agriculture?" the report poses.

A close look at the forces at work within the groups controlling the cash flow reveals numerous causes for concern.

"Through their multiple channels of influence, the Rockefeller and Gates foundations have been very successful in promoting their market-based and bio-medical approaches towards global health challenges in the research and health policy community—and beyond," the authors state.

Moreover, the report continues, "there is a revolving door between the Gates Foundation and pharmaceutical corporations. Many of the Foundation's staff had held positions at pharmaceutical companies such as Merck, GSK, Novartis,  Bayer HealthCare Services and Sanofi Pasteur."

Looking at agriculture and farming, meanwhile, the Gates Foundation is undermining self-determination and local solutions in measurable ways.

"The vast majority of the Gates Foundation's agricultural development grants focus on Africa," the report notes. "However, over 80 percent of the U.S. $669 million to NGOs went to organizations based in the U.S. and Europe, with only 4 percent going to Africa-based NGOs. Similarly, of the U.S. $678 million grants to universities and research centers, 79 percent went to grantees in the U.S. and Europe and only 12 percent to recipients in Africa."

Both the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations have been slammed by international grassroots groups, including the global peasant movement La Via Campesina, for their international role in exporting big agricultural models, privatizing food policies, and expanding the power of companies like Monsanto.

(Sarah Lazare writes for the excellent Common Dreams …where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JUST THE FACTS-Once again, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Traffic Division Detectives are asking for the public’s help in providing information that would lead to the identification and arrest of a suspect involved in a hit and run collision that killed an innocent pedestrian. 

According to the LAPD, on December 13, 2015, around 5:20pm, 70-year-old Sister Raquel Diaz (photo) was in the crosswalk at Winter Street and North Evergreen Avenue. A vehicle traveling southbound on North Evergreen Avenue struck Sister Diaz and continued southbound. The driver did not stop to render aid as required by law. Paramedics responded and transported the Catholic Nun to a local hospital in critical condition where she died a week later. The victim of this deadly hit and run was a Sister with the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese. She was the Director of Religious Education at the Church of Assumption on Blanchard Street and worked as a Sister helping others for more than fifty years. 

While the Los Angeles City Council recently amended the Los Angeles Administrative Code and created a Hit and Run Reward Program Trust Fund, making a reward of up to $25,000 available to community members who provide information leading to the offender's identification, apprehension, and conviction, the missing component is enforcement by the LAPD. 

In 2012, the LAPD implemented a controversial policy on impoundment of vehicles of unlicensed drivers. The Department created “Special Order 7” which limits circumstances under which officers may impound a vehicle being driven by a person lacking a driver’s license.

The Chief, with full support of the Police Commission, issued the order in 2012, based on a conclusion that a disproportionate number of vehicles being impounded for up to 30 days were driven by undocumented immigrants who needed those vehicles to get to and from work. At the time, state law did not permit persons in the country unlawfully to obtain driver’s licenses.  That state law has changed with the Assembly Bill 60 which now allows everyone, including undocumented immigrants to test and obtain a driver’s license.

This week, California Department of Motor Vehicles officials released Assembly Bill 60 statistics for the month of November, as well as totals since the program was implemented on January 2, 2015. The program has been very successful. In November alone, 26,000 AB 60 driver licenses were issued. And from January 2 to November 30, 574,000 AB 60 driver licenses have been issued. A license is not issued until the applicant proves identity and residency with qualifying documents or through secondary review, passes a written knowledge exam, and completes a behind-the-wheel drive exam.

Current Law

Current law states that if a driver is unable to produce a valid driver’s license on the demand of a peace officer enforcing the provisions of this code, “the vehicle shall be impounded regardless of ownership, unless the peace officer is reasonably able, by other means, to verify that the driver is properly licensed.” In addition, the law provides that where a driver is found to be unlicensed, a law enforcement officer may “immediately arrest that person and cause the removal and seizure of that vehicle.”

Under LAPD’s policy, however, a vehicle may not be impounded. That needs to change now that everyone is able to get a driver’s license, regardless of their immigration status. 

Legislative History

I was personally involved in the creation of the impound law when I was an LAPD motorcycle Sergeant in 1994, as a result of taking former Assemblymember Richard Katz on a ride-along.   

In 1994, the California legislature passed two bills allowing vehicle impoundment and forfeiture of vehicles operated by motorists driving while unlicensed or with a suspended license. The first bill, Senate Bill 1758, allowed peace officers to seize and impound for 30 days vehicles driven by a person whose license had been suspended or revoked, or by a person who had never been issued a license. Police could impound the vehicle whether the driver was the registered owner of the vehicle or not.  

The law that created the 30-day impound policy was drafted by Richard Katz who articulated the need for the public safety measure in a Los Angeles Times op-ed

Public Safety

Unlicensed drivers have either not proven they know how to operate a motor vehicle safely, or were previously licensed drivers who had their driving privileges revoked because of moving violations or DUI Violations. Allowing unlicensed drivers to have a vehicle returned to them or not impounding them at all which is currently occurring in the LAPD and only encourages unlicensed drivers to continue driving, increasing the danger for others on our roadways.

The LAPD and the LA City Council have acknowledged that we have a hit and run crisis. Hit and run accidents are four times the national average in Los Angeles. While nationally, 11 percent of all police reported crashes involve a hit-and-run collision, in Los Angeles, nearly 45 percent of all traffic collisions are due to hit-and-runs, according LAPD data that has been analyzed. On average, there are over 21,000 collisions that are hit-and-run in Los Angeles.

An AAA study found that one in five fatal crashes in Los Angeles involve an unlicensed driver. According to the LA Times, unlicensed drivers are a serious threat to public safety and contribute to the spike in hit-and-runs accidents. The AAA study showed that “excluding drivers who were incapacitated or killed and thus could not have fled, an estimated 32.4% of fatal-crash involved drivers who lacked a valid license left the scene of the crash; and an estimated 51.2% of all drivers who left the scene of a fatal crash lacked a valid license.”  

We have ample evidence that unlicensed drivers or people who do not bother to get their vehicles licensed are a threat to public safety.  Now that everyone, regardless of their immigration status can obtain a driver’s license, the City no longer needs a policy barring LAPD officers from impounding vehicles of drivers who never had a valid California license

We may never know if the person who hit and killed Sister Raquel Diaz was licensed or not. However, statistics indicate that the person was likely unlicensed. It is time for the LAPD to reexamine its enforcement policies to reduce crashes, serious injuries, and fatalities. The police are there to protect all of us. They need a policy that permits them to do their job of “Protecting and Serving” all the people of Los Angeles.

(Dennis P.  Zine is a 33 year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, 12 year member of the Los Angeles City Council and current LAPD Reserve Officer. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at Zman8910@aol.com) Photo at top: LA Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

GOLDEN STATE DEFIES COMMON SENSE--My fellow Californians, the state of our state is nuttier than ever.

In saying that, I do not meant to judge the sanity of individual Californians—to the contrary, national surveys show we have lower rates of mental illness than the country as a whole. And, to be clear, I am referring to more than the agricultural fact that our state’s almond and walnut production has increased even during this drought.

I know you will hear other, more conventional assessments of the state of things in the coming weeks. The beginning of a new year is the high season for our elected officials to offer addresses on how our state is faring—overviews of California’s cities and counties and school districts. Since these are good, if anxious, times, they will offer optimistic talk of state and local comebacks from recession and budget cuts, of digitally infused growth, of their plans for new programs. They will try to offer narratives that make sense of this place.

That is an understandable impulse, but we all know in our hearts there is no making sense of California.

For better and for worse, we are too nutty for that.

I offer my assessment of our essential nuttiness as a starting point for a year in which we will debate and cast votes on our taxes, our drug laws, our schools, our roads, our rails, our environment, our water, our future. As we figure things out, let us not lean too heavily on reason, or appeal too often to common sense.

After all, this has never been a particularly reasonable or sensible state—even as it has become one of the world’s wealthiest and most attractive places. Our nuttiness and our success stem from the same history: From its very beginnings, California has been reshaped so rapidly and often by so many different people from so many different places that only fools and columnists would dare generalize about the place.

So when things make no sense in the coming year, take comfort in the words of the writer and anarchist Edward Abbey: “There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California.”

We have been so singular for so long that California has become obsessed with singularity—and even afraid of “the singularity,” the idea that artificial intelligences will eventually surpass our own, and acquire a life of their own, thus dooming humanity. When Gov. Brown gives his own State of the State address, there likely will be a predictable list of California singular-status boasts: as a leader in renewable energy, in pursuing the nation’s only high-speed rail system, in protecting undocumented immigrants, in finding smarter ways to use water, in fighting climate change.

Such policies are to be celebrated. They also are the fruits of our perceived nuttiness—other states have rejected high-speed rail and immigrant protection and cap-and-trade for greenhouse gas emissions as irretrievably wacky ideas.

You won’t hear this month’s official speechmakers talk about the other half of the nut—the way our nuttiness can turn on itself.

Ours is a state of creative communities and people that we allow to be ruled from Sacramento via the most centralized regime of regulation and taxation in the United States.

California is home to more than 100 billionaires. It also has the highest percentage of its population living in poverty of any state in the country, according to statistics that control for cost of living and public assistance. Despite all those poor people, our leaders have pursued policies that add to the cost of living. And so we have the most expensive electricity, gas, water, and—most notoriously—housing. And do we build more? No—we are busy making it harder and more expensive to build additional housing.

We embrace freedom and restrict our liberties in the same breath, without realizing it. Californians are well on their way to legalizing marijuana—but good luck finding a place in the state where you can smoke it, or a cigarette. The state is pioneering technologies and rules for self-driving cars—even as we let our roads deteriorate into impassable messes.

We’ve led the way in expanding health insurance for poor people—nearly half of our children are now on Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid—but at the same time, we’ve made it harder for people to see a doctor and get treatment. California desperately needs more college graduates—we’ll be short a million skilled workers by the middle of the next decade—so, naturally, we’ve been under-funding public higher education and limiting enrollment in our colleges.

Nothing is nuttier than California education policy. Our K-12 schools still aren’t funded at the national per-pupil average, but the state uses them as a piggybank, borrowing money from school districts in bad times. And even as the state has revamped its rainy day fund, it has prevented local school districts from saving money for a rainy day, potentially undermining their credit-worthiness. And California has led the way in restricting parents and the public from obtaining information on how schools are doing; the state has stopped issuing the Academic Performance Index, which rated schools, and has yet to replace it with any other measure.

We Californians also have a nutty weakness for empty and extravagant promises. We spend years on Elon Musk’s waiting lists for Teslas he never seems to deliver in the promised numbers. We invest billions in the trivial—how many online coupon companies and photo-sharing apps does one state need? And we overdo it. CalPERS thinks it can guarantee 6.5 percent investment returns (just a year after it said it could guarantee 7.5 percent). Our governments are still offering billions in retiree health care—without setting aside money to fund it—even in an age when Medicare and Obamacare should cover all.

This year, you’ll hear big talk about how we’ll reform our crazily complicated criminal justice and tax systems. We should reform, though we probably won’t. A place as nutty as this needs simpler rules, not 5,000 separate criminal provisions and over 400 penalty enhancements.

I could go on—take note that I’ve gone this far in a column about California nuttiness without once mentioning San Francisco—but what’s the point? While our nuttiness has its costs, California will survive. And we’ll cope, as we always do, by celebrating how crazily creative we are.

As Compton’s Kendrick Lamar will rap at this new year’s Grammys when he wins a boatload of awards, “We gon’ be alright. Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright.”

 

(Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

THEN AND NOW--When armed militants seized a government building in Burns, Oregon, on Saturday, stating their willingness to "kill and be killed" and promising to stay for "years," the official response was cautious and restrained. Many onlookers wondered whether this would still be the case if the militants were people of color instead of white people.

If you're not familiar with the history of protest in the U.S., you might not know that the armed occupation of government buildings hasn't always been just for white guys. In fact, on May 2, 1967, a group of 30 Black Panthers walked into the California state Capitol building, toting rifles and shotguns and quickly garnering national headlines.

Just to be clear, there are a world of differences between the Black Panthers' demonstration and what's happening in Oregon now (although it is noteworthy that you have to go back to 1967 to find an example of something even remotely analogous). The two groups employed different tactics, fought for different causes and -- predictably -- elicited different reactions in vastly different places and times. But the 1967 incident serves as one example of the way Americans tend to respond to black protest -- which some say is always likely to be vastly different from the way Americans react when it's white people doing the protesting.

In October 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self Defense as a small community organization based in Oakland, California. Its members -- including the 30 people who would travel to Sacramento the following May -- believed that black Americans should exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves against an oppressive U.S. government. At the time, California lawmakers were trying to strip them of that right, and the Black Panthers wanted to tell the U.S., and the world, that they found this unacceptable.

Among other things, the Black Panthers' agenda involved taking up arms and patrolling their communities to protect against rampant racism in policing. And that's what they did in the first few months of the party's existence, carrying guns openly in compliance with California law, driving around their neighborhoods, observing arrests and other law enforcement activity -- effectively policing the police. Newton was even known for packing a law book alongside his rifle that he'd recite from when informing an officer that a civilian's rights were being violated.

The patrols weren't meant to encourage violence. The Panthers were committed to using force only if it was used against them, and at first, their mere presence appeared to be working as a check on abusive policing. But the Panthers' willful assertion of their rights -- like the day Newton reportedly stood up to a cop in front of a crowd of black onlookers -- was unacceptable to white authority figures who'd come to expect complete deference from black communities, and who were happy to use fear and force to extract it.

Don Mulford, a GOP assemblyman who represented Oakland, responded to the Black Panther police patrols in 1967 with a bill to strip Californians of the right to openly carry firearms. 

Nobody tried to stop the 30 Black Panthers -- 24 men and six women, carrying rifles, shotguns and revolvers -- as they walked through the doors of the state Capitol building on May 2 of that year. This was decades before Sept. 11 or the Oklahoma City bombing, and the protesters were, after all, legally allowed to have their weapons. They entered with their guns pointed at the ceiling. Behind them followed a horde of journalists they'd called to document the protest.

As the rest of the group waited nearby, six Panthers entered the assembly chamber, where they found lawmakers mid-session. Some legislators reportedly saw the protesters and took cover under desks. It was the last straw: Police finally ordered the protesters to leave the premises. The group maintained they were within their rights to be in the Capitol with their guns, but eventually they exited peacefully.

Outside, Seale delivered the Black Panther executive mandate before a crush of reporters. This section of remarks, reprinted in Hugh Pearson's The Shadow of the Pantherstill resonates today: 

"Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people. All of these efforts have been answered by more repression, deceit and hypocrisy. As the aggression of the racist American government escalates in Vietnam, the police agencies of America escalate the oppression of black people throughout the ghettoes of America. Vicious police dogs, cattle prods, and increased patrols have become familiar sights in black communities. City Hall turns a deaf ear to the pleas of black people for relief from this increasing terror."

Shortly after Seale finished, police arrested the group on felony charges of conspiracy to disrupt a legislative session. Seale accused them of manufacturing "trumped up charges," but the protesters would later plead guilty to lesser misdemeanors.  

Mulford's legislation, which became known as the "Panthers Bill," passed with the support of the National Rifle Association, which apparently believed that the whole "good guy with a gun" thing didn't apply to black people. California Gov. Ronald Reagan (R), who would later campaign for president as a steadfast defender of the Second Amendment, signed the bill into law.

Although the May 2 demonstration failed to sway lawmakers into voting against the Mulford Act -- and may have even convinced some of them that such a measure was necessary -- it did succeed in making the Black Panthers front-page news. Headlines ran above evocative photos of armed black protesters, many wearing berets, bomber jackets and dark sunglasses, walking the halls of the California Capitol. And the American public's response to that imagery reflected a nation deeply divided on the issue of race.

On one hand, such a defiant demonstration of black power served as recruitment fodder for the Black Panther Party, which had previously only been operating in the Bay Area. It grew in size and influence, opening branches in a number of major cities, building a presence on college campuses and ultimately surging to as many as 5,000 members across 49 local chapters in 1969.

The party even attracted a number of radical-leaning white supporters -- many of whom were moved by the Black Panthers' lesser-remembered efforts, like free breakfasts for children in black neighborhoods, drug and alcohol abuse awareness courses, community health and consumer classes and a variety of other programs focused on the health and wellness of their communities.

But it was clear from the moment the Black Panthers stepped inside the California Capitol that the nuances of the protest, and of Seale's message, weren't going to be understood by much of white America. The local media's initial portrayal of the brief occupation as an "invasion" would lay the groundwork for the enduring narrative of the Black Panthers first and foremost as a militant anti-white movement.

In August 1967, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover took steps to ensure that public support for the Black Panthers would remain marginal. In a memorandum just months after the armed protest, he deemed the group a "black nationalist, hate-type organization" to be neutralized by COINTELPRO, a controversial initiative that notoriously skirted the law in its attempts to subvert any movement that Hoover saw as a potential source of civil disorder. A 2012 report further uncovered the extent of the agency's activity, revealing that an FBI informant had actually provided the Black Panthers with weapons and training as early as 1967.  

As the Panthers' profile grew in the months and years following the California Capitol protest, so too did their troubles -- something that many of the Panthers themselves regarded as no coincidence. Just two months after Hoover put the Black Panthers in his sights, Newton was arrested and convicted of killing Oakland police officer John Frey, a hotly contested development and the first in a series of major, nationwide controversies that engulfed the movement. (Newton ultimately served two years of his sentence before his conviction was overturned in a set of appeals.)

The strength of the Black Panthers ebbed and flowed in the years leading up to the organization's dissolution in 1982. The party struggled to find a balance between its well-intentioned community efforts and its reliance on firepower and occasional violence to bolster its hardened image. High-profile shootouts with police and arrests of members created further rifts in the group's leadership and helped cement the white establishment's depiction of Black Panthers as extremists.

Many white Americans couldn't get over their first impression of the Black Panthers. Coverage of the 1967 protest introduced them to the party, and the fear of black people exercising their rights in an empowered, intimidating fashion left its mark. To them, the Black Panthers were little more than a group of thugs unified behind militaristic trappings and a leftist political ideology. And to be fair, some members of the party were criminals not just in the minds of frightened white people.

The Black Panther protest in 1967 is not the "black version" of what's happening in Oregon right now. Those demonstrators entered the state Capitol lawfully, lodged their complaints against a piece of racially motivated legislation and then left without incident. But for those who see racial double standards at play in Oregon, the scope and severity of the 1967 response -- the way the Panthers' demonstration brought about panicked headlines, a prolonged FBI sabotage effort and support for gun control from the NRA, of all groups -- will serve as confirmation that race shapes the way the country reacts to protest.   

(Nick Wing is Senior Viral Editor at Huffington Post … where this retrospective was first posted.)

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

GELFAND’S WORLD--How is the Affordable Care Act doing here in California? One recent newcomer to the system informs us that the state agency known as Covered California is doing just fine. It's only when you have to deal with the insurance company itself that things can get sticky. Perhaps sticky is too polite a word for it. Here is her story. 

The subject of our account spent a little more than a year working in another state. When she came back to California, it was coincidentally at a time that was the beginning of the open enrollment period. She called Covered California and was presented with a list of options. She chose to sign up with Healthnet. She dutifully made her first payment well in advance for a December 1 start date. All was fine, or so she thought. 

But all was not fine. For reasons known only to the insurance deities, Healthnet fumbled this particular ball. Instead of signing her up for the first of December as promised, she was signed up for January of 2016. This would have left her without health insurance for all of December. She discovered this mistake well before the first of December (and well after her payment cleared). Thus began the long and difficult process of trying to resolve the problem. 

Let me give you a hint. Healthnet never got the problem solved. 

Healthnet made lots of promises, but never actually got anything fixed. In looking over her notes, our customer found that she had talked to at least 17 people on at least 2 continents. Pretty much everybody she talked to said that her problem was fixable, but could not be fixed right then. The first several conversations, she was told that it would take 5 to 7 days, and then the mistake would be rectified. 

Several of those 5 to 7 day intervals ensued, but Healthnet never got her signed on for the December 1 start date. It was always listed as pending, or the fully paid premium was somehow still due. 

Here is what she discovered. The company mistakenly took the original payment for the 2015 coverage and applied it to coverage under a different account number that would only have started after the New Year. In further conversations with additional Healthnet representatives and eventually with Covered California, she found out that Healthnet was suffering from an administrative glitch that probably has affected a substantial number of would-be customers. She apparently was not the only person to have her insurance payment credited to the wrong month and the wrong account number. 

Each time she talked to Covered California, she got prompt and courteous service. Each time, she was told by staff that something about her application was still pending. Additional conversations with Healthnet representatives led to promises, including the assertion that her insurance card was in the mail. 

Yep, it was in the mail, as the old joke has it. It was in the mail in the same way that your check from the Euro Lottery scam is in the mail. 

Early in January, she received a card from a Healthnet return address with some kind of discount offer for a drugstore chain. But still no insurance card. 

When it got to be the year 2016, our intrepid consumer called Covered California one more time, and asked them to get her out of Healthnet and into a different company. By then, she had become assertive enough to ask that the change be accomplished that same day. Covered California had to do a supervisory override on some administrative rule, but they accomplished the requested task in that one phone call. 

In summary, the state of California has kept its pledge. Its service organization Covered California picks up the phone when you call, and real live people talk to you. They even do what they can to help. 

Here is a curious question: What advantage accrues to Healthnet in providing such lousy service? We might consider the answer, if there is one, by considering the possibilities. 

The first is the simplest. Maybe Healthnet is just being cheap. Maybe it's just saving a few bucks on customer service. It outsources as much as it can to overseas contractors, and only provides domestic representatives when customers get demanding. There are two effects stemming from this policy. The first is that the first representative the customer deals with can't just walk down the hall and talk to a higher ranking administrator. The representative is half a world away, and can only follow what is essentially a narrowly tailored script. 

The other problem is this: The first level representative does not have the tools or the authority to actually fix the problem. All he can do is pass the buck. Presumably that representative is just  typing the complaint into a computer and pushing the send key. Somebody who is somewhere else will have to solve the problem. 

That's presumably why the promises always involve that 5 to 7 day wait. It's not really a good faith promis. It's just a rote reply to each frustrated customer. 

The other advantage for the insurance company is that the customer doesn't actually get to make use of services during the waiting period. Prescriptions don't get covered, and doctor's appointments won't get made -- not unless the customer is willing to risk having to pay in cash at the front desk. 

It's not obvious which of these reasons is the true one. Maybe it's something else entirely. Maybe Healthnet was saving money on its computer support staff and has been suffering from some giant computer glitch. That could also explain this fiasco. Only if that were the case, wouldn't it be helpful for the company to explain the problem to its anxious customers? That would have been the obvious approach. 

The other possible explanation is that Healthnet is being difficult to new customers coming into the individual (rather than group) health insurance market. That gives Healthnet a slight advantage in ridding itself of people who are a little more statistically likely to have some preexisting condition. 

In any case, the company still has the money they received from this customer. It's money that was paid for coverage that was never actually received. 

Why aren't I surprised?

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

WHO WE ARE--Not too long ago, more than 60,000 people were sterilized in the United States based on eugenic laws. Most of these operations were performed before the 1960s in institutions for the so-called “mentally ill” or “mentally deficient.” 

In the early 20th century across the country, medical superintendents, legislators, and social reformers affiliated with an emerging eugenics movement joined forces to put sterilization laws on the books. Such legislation was motivated by crude theories of human heredity that posited the wholesale inheritance of traits associated with a panoply of feared conditions such as criminality, feeblemindedness, and sexual deviance. 

Many sterilization advocates viewed reproductive surgery as a necessary public health intervention that would protect society from deleterious genes and the social and economic costs of managing “degenerate stock.” From today’s vantage point, compulsory sterilization looks patently like reproductive coercion and unethical medical practice.

At the time, however, sterilization both was countenanced by the U.S. Supreme Court (in the 1927 Buck v. Bell case) and supported by many scientists, reformers, and law-makers as one prong of a larger strategy to improve society by encouraging the reproduction of the “fit” and restricting the procreation of the “unfit.” In total, 32 U.S. states passed sterilization laws between 1907 and 1937, and surgeries reached their highest numbers in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Beginning in the 1970s, state legislatures began to repeal these laws, finding them antiquated and discriminatory, particularly towards people with disabilities.

Of the 60,000 sterilizations in the United States, California performed one-third, or 20,000, of them, making the Golden State the most aggressive sterilizer in the nation. Ten years ago, I published a book that explores the history of eugenics and sterilization in California, but I was frustrated that my research had yielded so little information about the state’s extensive sterilization program. I knew next to nothing about the thousands of Californians sterilized in institutions such as Sonoma (photo above), Mendocino, and Patton, all located in rural, remote parts of the state.

Who were these people? Why were they committed to institutions and then deprived of their reproductive autonomy? What was the demographic composition of those sterilized? Were certain groups of people disproportionately targeted? What about their families, interests, and lives, in and outside of the institution?

In 2007, I finally found crucial pieces of the historical puzzle. At the administrative offices of the state’s Department of Mental Health (now Department of State Hospitals), which had directed the state’s sterilization program decades earlier, a secretary pointed me to a standard-issue gray metal filing cabinet. Inside, I found a box with some microfilm reels. Squinting at the small dark font on the negative strips, I could make out the words “Sterilization Recommendation.”

In total, I located 19 microfilm reels containing thousands of documents dating from 1919 to 1952 (the most active years of sterilization), which had been preserved in the 1970s when the paper files were discarded. Several years ago, I was able to launch a project with a team of students and researchers at my institution, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, to create a dataset that contains all these records in de-identified and coded form. Data entry has been a protracted and demanding process, taking nearly three years, but ultimately we created a dataset containing 19,995 patient records.

Our dataset reveals that those sterilized in state institutions often were young women pronounced promiscuous; the sons and daughters of Mexican, Italian, and Japanese immigrants, frequently with parents too destitute to care for them; and men and women who transgressed sexual norms.

Preliminary statistical analysis demonstrates that during the peak decade of operations from 1935 to 1944 Spanish-surnamed patients were 3.5 times more likely to be sterilized than patients in the general institutional population.

Laws that govern the use of medical records require that we redact personal information to protect patient privacy. Even though we will never be able to divulge the real names or precise circumstances of the 20,000 people sterilized in California, we can still see the ugly underside of medical paternalism and how authorities treated Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, immigrant groups, and people with disabilities and mental illnesses in 20th-century America.

Consider the following stories:

In 1943, a 15-year-old Mexican-American boy we will call Roberto was committed to the Sonoma State Home, an institution for the “feebleminded” in Northern California. Roberto’s journey to Sonoma began the previous year when he was picked up by the Santa Barbara Police for a string of infractions that included intoxication, a knife fight, and involvement with a “local gang of marauding Mexicans.” Citing his record of delinquency and “borderline” IQ score of 75, the officials at Sonoma recommended that Roberto be sterilized.

Roberto’s father adamantly, and unsuccessfully, opposed his son’s sterilization, and went so far as to secure a priest to protest the operation. Again and again, the records reveal that many Mexican-American families like Roberto’s resisted compulsory sterilization, seeking support from the Catholic Church, the Mexican Consulate, and legal aid societies. On occasion, family members were able to stop or forestall the operation; in most cases, however, medical superintendents would simply override such protestations and proceed with surgery.

Four years later, the relatives of Hortencia, a young African-American woman held in Pacific Colony in Spadra, California, contacted the NAACP to make a strong case against her sterilization. They halted the surgery with threats of high-profile legal action, even though this meant Hortencia was not permitted to leave the institution.

At the same time, we found that many parents and guardians consented to the sterilization of their loved ones. Silvia, a Mexican-American mother of a toddler, was 20 years old when she was placed in Pacific Colony in 1950. (photo above: image used in accordance with the California Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects Protocol ID 13-08-1310 and the University of Michigan Biomedical IRB HUM00084931.)  She was assessed with an “imbecile” IQ of 35 and reportedly had been raised in a violent home. Silvia’s mother ostensibly could not control her daughter and approved her sterilization.

Fifteen years earlier, Timothy, a white 25-year old placed in Stockton because of same-sex encounters since boyhood and a psychiatric diagnosis of “dementia praecox, hebephrenic type,” consented to his own reproductive surgery, perhaps because he knew that it was a potential ticket out of the facility or because he felt it would help him control his pathologized sexual desires.

In contrast, Mark, a white clergyman committed to Patton (a hospital for the “mentally ill”) for “dementia praecox, catatonic type,” wrote to officials in Sacramento in 1947 that he was “religiously opposed” to his own vasectomy. Records indicate that by speaking up for himself Mark persuaded authorities against the recommended vasectomy.

(Photo: Postcard c.1910s of Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino.)  Patton, Southern California’s primary mental hospital for many years, was the largest sterilizer of the mentally ill in California and second highest sterilizer overall in the state. 

Taken together, these experiences illuminate, often in poignant detail, an era when health officials controlled with impunity the reproductive bodies of people committed to institutions. Superintendents wielded great power and proceeded with little accountability, behaving in a fashion that today would be judged as wholly unprofessional, unethical, and potentially criminal. We hope our project can restore the dignity and individuality of people such as Roberto, Hortencia, and Mark, who were subjected to this kind of dehumanization.

This history remains relevant, considering a more contemporary episode of sterilization abuse, again in California’s public institutions. Although the state’s eugenic sterilization law was repealed in 1979, existing legislation provided leeway for operations in state prisons pursuant to a strict set of criteria. Between 2006 and 2010, 146 female inmates in two of California’s women’s prisons received tubal ligations that ran afoul of these criteria; at least three dozen of these unauthorized procedures directly violated the state’s own informed consent process.

The majority of these female inmates were first-time offenders, African-American or Latina. Echoing the rationale of the eugenicists who championed sterilization in the 1930s, the physician responsible for many of these operations blithely explained they would save the state a great deal of money “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children -- as they procreated more.” In 2013, an intrepid journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting broke this story and it eventually led to the passage of a bill banning sterilization in California state prisons.

These revelations demonstrate that, even in our age of bioethics and awareness of the wrongs of medical experimentation, we are not immune from the conditions that facilitated compulsory sterilization in the mid-20th century: lack of institutional oversight, presumptions that certain members of society are not “fit” to reproduce, and overzealous and biased physicians. The documents we found certainly contain historical lessons for the present and starkly remind us that we should never forget the past.

(Alexandra Minna Stern is professor of American culture, obstetrics and gynecology, women’s studies, and history at the University of Michigan. A new edition of her book Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in America was published in December 2015. This piece first appeared on Zocalo Public Square.)   Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

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