S.F. Weekly’s Red Scare

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.

After a meeting of the Eden Township Healthcare District last month he delivered a blistering condemnation of Sutter’s alleged tactic of “medical redlining” poor patients from richer ones to former board member and Sutter-backer Dr. Frank Rico, A visibly flustered Rico called Tseng “a typical liberal.” Tseng later told me he was surprisingly not a liberal. (Alert! He may have admitted his communist beliefs.)
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.

In a Feb. 3 SF Weekly article, the same author prefaces his indictment of CNA–a labor union, attempting to protect union jobs while saving a community asset–by calling it his “favorite labor union.” Some following the both hospital situations say Smith’s articles smack of Sutter’s talking points for its plan to close St. Luke’s, which is located in a depressed area of San Francisco, and open a larger facility in a better part of the city. Sound familiar? The same charges are being levied against Sutter in San Leandro where more non-paying, impoverished patients frequent the hospital than the more affluent, under construction Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley.

“By holding up nearly $1.7 billion in shovel-ready infrastructure spending that would create thousands of jobs β€” just as America’s economic free-fall threatens to throw millions of workers into poverty β€” is a cause unbecoming of my favorite labor union.”

The imagery of shadowy conspirators lurking in the shadows does not end with Smith’s prose, but is contained in a recent letter from an elected official in the East Bay. Fast forward to last week and Eden Township Healthcare District Chair Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar’s “Letter to the Community” says essentially the same thing when he fingered fellow boardmembers, the community and unions as threatening the entire health care system. “The two Board members, encouraged by vocal supporters and labor unions in San Leandro, are secretly attempting to have the District attempt to rescind the agreement with Sutter Health which was approved by the District after five public meetings in 2007 and which lead to Sutter’s commitment to rebuild Eden and support San Leandro Hospital,” said Ratnesar.

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 β€” even though exiting giants may take with them things the city badly needs,” wrote Smith.


The Citizen FILE on Labor Unions

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Categories: Matt Smith, Rajendra Ratnesar, S.L. Hospital, SF Weekly, St. Luke's, Sutter

4 replies

  1. I wondered why the group didn't have contact information on thier handouts. On the other hand Sutter spends a lot of money on advertising , so you have to wonder if the S.F.Weekley has a hidden agenda.


  2. The earlier story that the Weekly printed by Smith failed to mention that Sutter's plans in San Francisco would take away nearly 500 inpatient beds and numerous vital health programs from the City, most of them from the already underserved South of Market. Of course, informing the public with facts like that wouldn't serve the intent of Smith's peculiar campaign.


  3. By the way, citizens throughout Northern California fighting to maintain health care services don't require Sutter Health to “die or leave town”- it would be much preferable if they would adjust their actions in order to meet their claimed mission of “building healthier communities and caring for those in need.” Unfortunately, their actions more often reflect a philosophy of “building healthier financial bottom lines and leaving those in need to fend for themselves.”


  4. Anyone who looks into the matter can easily ascertain that POC is indeed a part of Natlfed. And the “Communist Party” alluded to is not any typical “CP” by any stretch. There are indeed a myriad of Communist Parties who have their activists involved in a myriad of causes—most, if not all, I would probably agree with. CPUSA, SWP, WWP, and so on.

    The problem with POC and Natlfed IS NOT that they are supposedly a CP, but rather that they are known nationally to be a dangerous cult. Again, any reasonable investigation can easily unveil this.

    Jeff Whitnack


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