Political Fix (19 May, 2016)

Happy World Press Freedom Day!

I bet you didn’t know that May 3 was World Press Freedom Day. The Secretary General of the United Nations had this to say, “On this World Press Freedom Day, I urge all Governments, politicians, businesses and citizens to commit to nurturing and protecting an independent, free media. Without this fundamental right, people are less free and less empowered.”

A week later, Bruce Greene, from the Los Angeles law firm of Baker Hostetler LLP, sent the Valley Voice a nine-page letter demanding a “full retraction” of our last article “Deal Gives HCCA right to Buy Tulare Regional Medical Center.”

This windy epistle, however, was an improvement over Mr. Greene’s first correspondence with the Valley Voice, where he threatened to sue the paper on behalf of Healthcare Conglomerates Association (HCCA).

Mr. Greene represents the Tulare Local Health Care District that is being run by HCCA; and at $500 an hour he has cost the Tulare taxpayers at least $7,500 to threaten and harass a small local newspaper.

HCCA was founded in 2013 by Dr. Benny Benzeevi and his brother Iddo Benzeevi. It is a private company that runs a public hospital which is also considered a government agency.

Our relationship with Mr. Greene started on March 17. He threatened that if the Valley Voice did not do a full online and in print retraction of our first article concerning Tulare Regional Medical Center and the fired staff, the paper would “proceed at our own risk and the damages would be measured by the hour.”

Facing the prospects of a lawsuit from a powerful nation-wide law firm, we actually stopped distribution of our paper that morning and took the article off of our website.

While we were considering our options, one of which was throwing the March 17 issue away and reprinting it without the Tulare Hospital story, our lawyer, John Sarsfield, from Melo and Sarsfield, called. He said that the Tulare hospital article was not defamatory, all quotes were sourced, and that we printed what we believed to be true. Mr. Sarsfield was angry and said, “this is all about free speech. How dare a government agency try to shut us up?”

Mr. Sarsfield said at some point you have to get a backbone and take a stand.

So we took a stand, put the article back on-line, and distributed the paper the next day. From that day forward, no matter how big or how powerful, no one is ever going to shut us up again.

After the crisis passed, I googled this big powerful lawyer who seemed too comfortable trampling on Tulare’s first amendment rights. What I discovered was that Mr. Greene is no average corporate lawyer–he is a real estate lawyer, and unfortunately, that made a lot of sense.

Mr. Greene’s website states, “A traditional real estate lawyer with more than 38 years of experience, Bruce Greene focuses his national practice on representing clients in a broad range of real estate matters.” Mr. Greene was Iddo Benzeevi’s real estate lawyer for his failed housing development, Rancho Belago, and represented Iddo’s in his controversial acquisition of large tracks of land for the development of mega-warehouses in Moreno Valley.

Mr. Greene’s specialty seems to fit hand in glove with the goals of HCCA.

HCCA’s website states, “We meet the future of healthcare delivery today by partnering with health systems, hospitals, and health care districts – either through direct purchase, capital infusion, creative mutually beneficial partnerships, and/or other means.”

Notice the first option is “direct purchase.”

In the contract between the Tulare Local Health Care District and HCCA, signed by the board on May 29 2014, it states, “the District hereby grants to HCCA the irrevocable and exclusive right and option (the Option) to purchase or lease the Hospital, the Clinics and Other Facilities and the Other District Assets…” HCCA also has the Right of First Refusal.

Now if only the Valley Voice would shut up, HCCA could make their acquisitions a little more quietly.

Can Tulare County be Bought Also?

It might come as a surprise to some people that Tulare County Board of Supervisors candidate for District 3, Amy Shuklian, accepted $15,000 in donations from Healthcare Conglomerates Associates (HCCA). To put this amount in perspective, it is the largest donation she has received, and she is a very successful fundraiser. It also is more money than any other candidate running for Tulare County Supervisor District 1 has raised in total, except Kuyler Crocker.

Dr. Benzeevi and Ms. Shuklian met in January of this year, and his company, HCCA, gave Ms. Shuklian $10,000 at that time. HCCA gave an additional $5000 in late March.

Before the anti-HCCA faction takes aim Ms. Shuklian, it should be pointed out that she accepted the first donation when most people had never heard of HCCA. The second donation came right when the HCCA/Tulare hospital story was breaking.

In addition, Dr. Benzeevi happens to be very well liked and admired. He is seen by his peers as having only the best interests of the hospital at heart and as a compassionate, caring man with the patients and staff. He is also credited as saving Tulare’s hospital from bankruptcy.

But Tulare County Supervisor Phil Cox was not impressed.

“I would not accept donations from HCCA. My vote is not for sale.”

“I was surprised to see that $15,000 was given to my opponent,” said Mr. Cox. “They clearly want to control who is on the board of supervisors.” Mr. Cox considers HCCA a power-hungry corporation that is going to try and touch all elected officials in Tulare County and control all areas of the county’s government.

Mr. Cox said that he especially would not accept a donation now from HCCA after Dr. Benzeevi put $38,000 into defeating Measure H, a bond that would have rebuilt an old wing of Kaweah Delta Hospital and built a new ER. Kaweah Delta is in the heart of District 3.

Amy’s vote is not for sale either. But that doesn’t mean that HCCA isn’t going to try and buy it.

So far, Mr. Cox’ speculation that the Benzeevi brothers are maneuvering to control all areas of the county’s government is slowly coming true. In the 2014 election Dr. Benzeevi gave $10,000 to Tim Ward and nothing to Ralph Kaelbe; HCCA gave $5000 to Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux but did not donate to his opponent, Dave Whaley.

For the 2016 Assembly District 26 election HCCA has donated to Assemblyman Devon Mathis and not to Rudy Mendoza. And now HCCA has given money to Amy Shuklian and not to Phil Cox. I predict HCCA will be anxious to be a kingmaker in the Tulare County Supervisor District 1 race soon after the field is whittled down to two after the June Primary. The question is who?

HCCA is not only interested in dominating the political arena but the press. While HCCA pours money into the Visalia Times-Delta, their lawyer threatened to shut down the Valley Voice.

With a multimillion dollar corporation trying to dominate the press and local politicians in one of the poorest and uneducated counties in the state, what could possibly go wrong?

A Misogynist By Any Other Name is Trump

The whole secret behind being a misogynist is to hide the fact that you are misogynist. After working five years for the same company I didn’t realize that my boss, Kevin, was a misogynist until I was sitting with one of my girlfriends discussing work. I told her the story about how my boss took a picture of Frankenstein and superimposed Paula’s face, his superior, onto it. Then he would shove pushpins into the picture every time he disagreed with her.

Paula was the chair of a large foundation that granted large sums of money to nonprofits like the one Kevin ran, and he hated her power. Then she got pregnant, and the larger she grew, the more venomous Kevin’s comments toward her became.

Looking back on how he spoke about, and treated women, I can’t believe that I was so naïve. He would regale me on how I wasn’t talented enough to write grants, would never be a manager, and how I couldn’t work a computer. Funny, after I finally left that company I excelled in everything he said I wouldn’t.

Women don’t see misogyny any better than men do.

He criticized and ragged on the founder of the company, Barbara. She had no idea how much he hated her. When he was being his most disagreeable or pissy she would just say, “Oh, that’s Kevin being Kevin.”

I endured two miserable pregnancies while working under that man. His criticisms came more fast and furious as my belly grew, until a few days before my due date I found myself bawling in the board of director’s chair.

The director tried to console me as he handed me a cup of Nescafe by saying, “Kevin is just being Kevin.”

After being witness to Donald Trump’s campaign I don’t feel so naïve or foolish. Watching Mr. Trump’s treatment of women brings back all my old feelings while I hear news announcers and the public saying, “Oh that’s just Trump. He tells it like it is.”

Many people do not see Mr. Trump as a misogynist.

They look at the strong women around him and say, “See–he loves women.” But at the same time he is fixated on women’s appearances, stereotypes and their bodies.

Those exceptionally strong women also spend an exceptional amount of time at the plastic surgeons and in the bathroom each morning putting on their faces.

Fortunately, enough people do to make his misogyny a campaign issue. “That’s just Trump being Trump” doesn’t wash when he labels women he doesn’t like as ‘fat pigs’, ‘dogs’, ‘slobs’, and ‘disgusting animals.”

What makes a story about misogyny so sweet? I googled Kevin at the beginning of Mr. Trump’s campaign and saw that he is still working for the same sad nonprofit in East Oakland while I have moved on. Sweeter still is that the most famous misogynist in the world is about to lose the highest office in the world to a woman.

I can hear him hissing now at Ms. Clinton, “Just look at that face.”

Yes, Mr. Trump, I see that beautiful face–sitting behind her desk in the Oval Office.

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