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GELFAND’S WORLD--A tiff between competing corporations threatens the multigenerational cherished memories of families. At least for my family it does. We remember going to Camp Curry and having breakfast at the Ahwahnee Hotel. We remember spending New Year's Eve at the Wawona Lodge as 1999 turned into 2000. We remember seeing a bear cub looking through our window. The traditional names are in danger now that the Delaware North Corporation will be replaced by Aramark as the concessionaire. There is a remarkably ironic twist to this story, but it doesn't make it any nicer. 

Yosemite had its origins as a protected area starting in the administration of Abraham Lincoln. It officially became a national park in 1890. Those of you who went to the campfire talks at Camp Curry (later renamed Curry Village) probably heard this story. Those of us of a certain age remember the fire fall, which consisted of hot embers being pushed over the edge of Glacier Point, half a mile above our heads, creating the red hot image of a waterfall. The Park Service eventually abandoned this ritual as being incompatible with the idea of nature preservation, but lots of people retain the memory. 

For most of its history, Yosemite National Park had its food and lodging services run by a company that originated in 1899. It was called the Yosemite Park & Curry Co. The idea of an organization that wrangled horses while running campgrounds and a cafeteria, and had done so for the better part of a century, was impressive. 

And then we watched that other ritual of the 1980s and '90s. The homegrown Curry company sold its assets to MCA. And then the new owner got bought by a Japanese corporation, Matsushita. This provoked a new round of American fretting over the ongoing sale of our assets to foreign buyers. The Secretary of the Interior decided that our landmark national park should be run by an American company. 

Thus the advent of the Delaware North corporation on the National Park scene. They came as the result of an attempt to preserve something. At one level, it was just national pride. On another level, it might be argued, it was the notion of preserving the national honor, character, and integrity. 

Surely this attempt at preservation included the saving of traditional words and names. I mean, you wouldn't expect the towns of Lexington and Concord to be forced to call themselves differently due to a dispute between two corporations. 

But now, the Delaware North Corporation, which won the concessions contract after Curry/MCA/Matsushita was forced out in the early 1990s, is itself being forced out by the newly awarded concessionaire, Aramark corporation. 

And that's the crux of the matter. Delaware North claims that in its sale of all Yosemite assets to Aramark (something required of each successive owner since Matsushita), it has valuable additional holdings, those being the names of some of its properties. Thus for the Ahwahnee, the name itself is being treated as a multimillion dollar asset. Somehow, the term Yosemite National Park seems to have been trademarked with hardly anyone noticing. 

The names of the Wawona, the Yosemite Lodge, and the Badger Pass ski complex are being treated as intellectual property, and Delaware North claims its right to compensation on the order of $50 million, give or take. Apparently it didn't make enough money over the past couple of decades and now requires more. 

The Park Service considered the conflict and has now decided that the issue will be made moot. Each of the hotel locations, Curry Village, and the ski area will now be named something different. 

The best description of the situation comes from Kevin Drum of the Mother Jones website, who has written two pieces. The first article is, as Drum concedes, a bit extreme, but it does manage to point out that the Ahwahnee will now be called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, and Curry Village will be called Half Dome Village. The Wawona is scheduled to become Big Trees Lodge. 

Drum has a little fun with the travesty: "Coming soon: Yellowstone National Park will be renamed Majestic Geysers Park. Redwood National Park will become Incredible Trees Park. And Everglades National Park will become Big Swampy Park." 

Drum followed up with a second article which walked the first one back a bit. To summarize, the whole conflict is in reality a contract dispute between two corporations. Delaware North thinks it is entitled to more compensation than the Park Service and the new concessionaire are willing to allow. 

Although I appreciate Kevin's careful reporting, I would like to suggest one element of the controversy that is being downplayed. It's the attitude of the Park Service. The United States government should have shown a little more spine, and told the litigants that the names in question are a heritage of the American people and are not to be messed with. 

I'd also like to think that earlier generations of Park Service leadership wouldn't have been such wimps. I can remember talking with the Park Service's Yosemite Superintendant about 25 years ago. I argued that Yosemite is a special place, and his reply was, "It is a special place." It was clear that he, his colleagues, and numerous organizations dedicated to preservation would be working to protect it. And that preservation should include names that are remembered fondly by hundreds of thousands of people. 

There is the additional effect, not inconsequential, that these proposed name changes would make us look stupid and craven in foreign nations. Shall the Eiffel Tower be renamed, and under what circumstances? The question is ludicrous. 

I would hope that the Park Service was just being a little thoughtless and shortsighted, will rethink its position, and will push for a quick resolution. And then win. 

In discussing this story with some friends, it was pointed out to me that thousands of couples have chosen to be married in Yosemite Valley. The federal judges who have presided over the little courthouse at the base of Yosemite Falls have also managed to marry a lot of people on trails and along the Merced River and up on towering crags these many years. Think of what those couples must be thinking now that the name of Yosemite National Park, the location written on their marriage certificates, is claimed to be the trademarked property of an eastern corporation. As one such person said to me, with just a bit of tongue in cheek, "WE'RE NOT MARRIED!" What must it be like for those couples? We have to preserve the sanctity of those marriages. This should be the one thing that conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats can agree on. 

Addendum 

January 17, the date of this writing, is the 22nd anniversary of the Northridge earthquake and the 19th anniversary of the death of a friend by gunfire. Both events are worthy of serious thought.

 

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

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

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

OSCAR POLITICS--As controversy continues to boil regarding the Oscars' all-white acting nominees, Spike Lee has said he will not attend next month's awards. The outspoken director posted a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. to Instagram on Monday morning, along with a lengthy caption condemning Hollywood executives with the "'green light' vote" who do not bring minority-centered stories to the big screen.

"The truth is we ain't in those rooms and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lilly [sic] white," Lee wrote, using capital letters to start each word.

#OscarsSoWhite...    Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative.

However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let's Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can't Act?! WTF!!

It's No Coincidence I'm Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday. Dr. King Said "There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It's Right".

For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken.

As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The "Real" Battle Is. It's In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To "Turnaround" Or Scrap Heap. This Is What's Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With "The Green Light" Vote.

As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, "I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS". People, The Truth Is We Ain't In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White. (Cont'd)

This year's ballot is the second consecutive set of Oscar nominees that feature no people of color. Some have argued there were no minorities worthy of nominations, another sign that studios haven't green-lit enough diverse projects. Yet it's hard to argue that not a single person of color deserved a spot when the list looks like this: Idris Elba ("Beasts of No Nation"), Samuel L. Jackson ("The Hateful Eight"), Michael B. Jordan ("Creed"), Tessa Thompson ("Creed"), Mya Taylor ("Tangerine"), Benicio Del Toro ("Sicario"), Oscar Isaac ("Ex Machina") and Will Smith ("Concussion"). Each saw significant Oscar buzz throughout awards season, yet came up short when the nominations were announced last week. Lee's movie, "Chi-Raq," also yielded a worthy performance from Teyonah Parris.

Lee is a two-time Oscar nominee, having earned a Best Original Screenplay recognition for 1989's "Do the Right Thing" and a Best Documentary Feature nod for 1997's "4 Little Girls." He was also awarded an honorary Oscar in November, using the opportunity to again address the industry's diversity gap.  

“It’s easier to be president of the United States as a black person than be head of a studio," Lee said at the annual Governor Awards. "Honest.”

(Matthew Jacobs is film reporter for Huffington Post … where this piece first appeared.)

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 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

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