SAVE SAN LEANDRO SUPPORTERS UNITE! WHAT?
Someone tell SF Weekly if you want to stoke the potent mixture of ideologiy and nationalism, the recipe of the day is fundamentalist Islam, not communism. That's soooo 1950, comrade. If the post-nuclear war holocaust of the 80's miniseries "The Day After" didn't spook you then the follow-up "Amerika" where the Soviets overthrew the U.S. government didn't make you think your Datsun-driving, Crystal Pepsi-drinking neighbor harbored Marxist tendencies, either.
Then why did SF Weekly's Matt Smith paint a well-meaning, yet assuredly shadowy activist group attempting to save St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco and San Leandro Hospital from being gobbled by Sutter Health, with such crusty Cold War descriptions in last week's edition? Because the newsweekly may have had more economic reasons in mind.
The article attempts to link the Physicians Organizing Committee, a small band of well-informed, sometimes militant supporters of San Leandro Hospital, to the National Labor Federation (NatlFed). Some believe the labor organization has political ties to the communist party, but Smith ups the ante with wild accusations grounded in reading too many Cold War-era comic books than evidence..
"Historically, the stated goal of NatlFed is one that would likely even discomfit the Bay Area liberals the organization targets for recruiting: the violent overthrow of the U.S. government," he writes. Ever been to Berkeley?
Other than numerous attempts to slip in nuggets of vintage Red Scare hysteria, Smith says the Physicians Organizing Committee and, by extension NatlFed, have never been charged with a crime and hilariously never accused of committing an act of terrorism. He cites lawyers who find nothing untowards by the groups other than their tactics grounded in common labor activism with a modicum of secrecy.
The Physicians Organizing Committee and the member cited in the article, Brian Tseng, have been ubiquitous at numerous meetings in support of San Leandro Hospital. Tseng, in particular, is known to be very passionate about keeping both hospitals functioning. A political consultant in the East Bay once told The Citizen, "Don't get in an argument with that guy." Make no mistake, Tseng is no shrinking violet.
In hindsight, the Physicians Organizing Committee has exhibited many of the behaviors Smith describes. Other than Tseng, the group appears to be a group of young followers and doctors who when asked for an opinion seem to go blank. This summer, when one doctor addressed a hearing featuring numerous local politicians including state Sen. Ellen Corbett and Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, he publicly charged Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker with having "secret" meetings with Sutter. The accusation was unheard of at the time and when I asked him a follow up question he had no idea what he had just read. "Is that what I said?" he told me. Tseng rushed up to us, ended the conversation and stuck a generic press release in my hands.
It is not uncommon for volunteers to read pre-written statements in public hearings. Like the doctor, these people appear to have no idea what they are reading as they stammer over phrasing seen for the very first time. While the prose is illuminating and informative, they strike some observers as odd in their orchestration.
Some supporters, not affiliated with the California Nurses Association (CNA), say SF Weekly and Smith have shown a decidedly pro-Sutter/anti-labor stance in their coverage of St. Luke's--the San Francisco version of the fight to keep San Leandro Hospital from closure. In it, Smith describes various gambits on the union's part to stymie Sutter's drive to transform the region's hospital system.
If you need more evidence to believe SF Weekly is holding the bag for Sutter look no further than this pro-business statement: "David-versus-Goliath fulfillment of beating back a large corporation can confuse activists into thinking that victory comes when Goliath either dies or leaves town — even though exiting giants may take with them things the city badly needs," wrote Smith.