Letters for the week of April 14-20, 2004 

Readers object to the trivialization of protest at Caterpillar dealer, except one reader, who applauds. And John George officials respond.

"Bum-Rushing the Bulldozers," Cityside, 3/24

Weapons of mass destruction found in San Leandro
Justin Berton, in his coverage of the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) action at the Peterson Caterpillar dealership on the one-year anniversary of Rachel Corrie's death, seems to go out of his way to trivialize both the importance of this action and the organizational efforts that produced it. It is important for readers to know that this action was only one element of JVP's effort to put pressure on the Caterpillar corporation to stop allowing these vehicles to be used as weapons of mass destruction in the West Bank and Gaza.

JVP has been instrumental, along with the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of Loretto, in helping to bring a shareholder resolution to Caterpillar's annual meeting demanding that CAT investigate whether its bulldozers have been used in an illegal manner by the Israeli government. This is the first such shareholder resolution to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Caterpillar leadership thinks this is important enough of a challenge that they have requested meetings with those sponsoring the resolution.

Why are we doing this? Caterpillar sells their vehicles to the US government, which then sells them to Israel as military vehicles. Once in Israeli hands, these bulldozers are armor-plated and have a machine gun cupola installed. Since they are military vehicles, they come under the auspices of the US Arms Export Control Act, which has strong conditions for the use of US military equipment; most notable are prohibitions against use on civilian targets.

Thousands of Palestinian homes (and olive orchards) have been either bulldozed or blown up by the IDF since 1967. These bulldozers have been involved in the deaths of more than a few people, including Rachel Corrie. JVP has decided to help Caterpillar at all levels (from local dealerships to the Caterpillar governing board) to think more clearly about its own role in such illegal and immoral destruction.

The JVP-sponsored action which took place during a working day last week gathered sixty-plus activists. Far from being a flaky event, getting so many people out on a weekday, everyone from bus drivers to university professors, was quite impressive. Our goal in this specific instance was to let one of the nation's largest CAT dealerships know that we are here, that we are quite principled and determined in our opposition to the misuse of their bulldozers, and that even though the events are taking place half a world away, we are emphasizing that responsibility begins at home. Justin Berton's sarcasm toward this local level of involvement does an injustice to the very real connection between what we do here and what happens over there. Indeed, the fact that $3 billion of our tax money goes to Israel every year, most of it military, much of it used to prosecute an illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, implicates all of us in Palestinian, and for that matter, Israeli suffering.

I am a five-year member of JVP and spent five weeks in 2002 as an ISM activist in the West Bank.
Robert Lipton, Ph.D, Prevention Research Center, Berkeley

Bull for bulldozers
Thanks for that hilarious account by Justin Berton of the simpletons who protested at Peterson Tractor. Indeed, no one should be fooled by the name "Jewish Voice for Peace." These pro-Palestinian propagandists regularly justify their heroes' tactics of murdering Jews via homicide bombs. Some "Voice for Peace"! And as the Express report amply demonstrated, like the ideologically-impaired listeners of the anti-Israeli drivel on KPFA, these people fail to comprehend that they speak only to and for themselves.

As for that poor "martyr" Rachel Corrie, she worked for the International Solidarity Movement -- an organization Mother Jones reported to be infamous for hiding suicide bombers as well as the leader of Islamic Jihad. But such unpleasant truths never register on either the ethically-challenged Jewish Voice for Peace, or Berkeley's own city council -- which recently canonized Corrie.

In sum, one might say that to cry crocodile tears for Corrie is just so much bull for bulldozers.
Dan Spitzer, Berkeley

Another Jew for peace
I was surprised that Justin Berton's article was written in a tone that made light of what is a serious subject.

Why would Justin choose to make fun of a group of people so outraged by the actions, that they are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to organize and carry out a nonviolent protest aimed at bringing attention to the situation and pressuring Caterpillar to investigate whether their equipment is being used to violate human rights?

To Jewish Voice for Peace, International Solidarity Movement, and all the protesters that took part I say: Thank you. This reader is not chuckling but moved to tears.
Robin Lindheimer (Jewish American), Berkeley

Just the facts
I really feel that Justin Berton did a poor job of reporting the Jewish Voice for Peace protest story.

It seems he should be writing fiction. Just the facts, please. Where does he get off supposing he knows what people are thinking, writing "why do these people ... Caterpillar" as if it's what they said?

What's the point of diminishing what these protesters did with superfluous mention of where they got gas and how fast they walked?
Martie Steele, Berkeley

"The AXT Way," Feature, 3/24

Criminal disregard for worker safety
With a background in industrial medicine and workers' comp cases, I found the cover story on AXT interesting, if discouraging. There was an error in the statement: "Nor did she realize the legal import of the following phrase printed in the center of the sheet: 'American Xtal Technology assumes no liability in connection with any use for the products discussed, and it makes no warranty in that respect. The user must assume full responsibility for all required safety measures in the use of these materials.'"

AXT is the employer. AXT has chosen to use certain materials. Ergo, the employee is obliged to use these materials. AXT has complete liability in their use, except in the case where an employee, knowing the correct techniques, persists in deviating from the normal standard.

AXT's little broadsheet is just so much eyewash. I helped oversee many of the Bay Bridge workers who were removing rivets, a lead-rich environment. There is no way that the employer could say, "There's lead out there, but that's not my concern." Likewise, as a former ER doctor, I could never have prospective patients sign a form excluding me from any liability or blame regarding their ER treatment.

Of course, if the person reading AXT's sheet is a recent Chinese immigrant, they could be fooled. The story, as described in the article, presents a company that shows callous regard for their workers. Since the company knew that they were working with a toxic material, failure to take appropriate precautions would be criminal.
Robert Winshall, MD, MPH, Fremont

Awful story but wonderful reporting
I was excited to read ["The AXT Way"] by Mr. Chris Thompson. His persistence to run after people for AXT., Inc was excellent! I also understood he really felt the pain of workers of the company. The story terrified me, but on the other hand, the writer's real journalist's spirit made me optimistic.
Renge Jibu, Tokyo, Japan

"Revolving Doors at John George," Cityside, 3/17

Saving money at all costs
Alameda County not only pays big bucks to purge patients from its mental hospital (John George), it also directs the county's suicidal, depressed, uninsured clients to a psychiatric crisis clinic. There is a psychiatrist on duty there, but Alameda County Behavioral Healthcare services has established the "standard that if a client is not already on antidepressant then do not begin prescribing them. Refer them ..." to a primary physician in a clinic where they don't prescribe antidepressants. Antidepressants cost too much money, apparently. That's why it takes two weeks after discharge to the suicide attempt.
Sharon Morrison, RN, Ruth Tucker, RN, Alameda

Doing our best in a difficult situation
While we assume your article was written out of concern for patients, we believe the article contains misunderstandings that we want to correct about policies, procedures, and patient treatment at John George Psychiatric Pavilion:

  • Alameda County contracts with the Alameda County Medical Center to provide services to patients who are suffering from acute psychiatric illness. ACMC contracts with the Waraich group of doctors to provide acute care. Nearby facilities, Eden or Villa Fairmont, provide care for subacute patients.

  • California state laws limit the ability of hospitals to hold patients against their will. Hospitals must document that patients are acutely ill to justify the involuntary holding of such patients. These laws may be of debatable benefit for patients, but they also protect patient rights. In any case, the Alameda County Medical Center must follow the law.

  • The focus in the contract on "denied days" is designed to ensure adequate documentation, not early discharge. The contract clearly does not directly reward early discharge. Under this contract, individual physicians are never rewarded for an early discharge. If the treating psychiatrist and treatment team feel that further acute hospitalization is needed at any time, the contract design allows for full payment with adequate documentation.

  • The contract does not incentivize physicians to discharge patients to an inappropriate level of care after the hospitalization. Patients who are waiting for a bed at a subacute level of care are put on "administrative days," not "denied days."

  • The attending physician, while ultimately responsible for the patient's treatment, does not provide treatment or make discharge decisions in isolation. A team of health care professionals, including registered nurses with psychiatric training, licensed occupational therapists, and psychiatric social workers, routinely is involved in every discharge decision.

  • There is a serious scarcity of resources for the care of severely mentally ill patients. While we strongly seek additional resources, we are also obligated to ensure that every aspect of the system is as effective as possible.

  • No cure exists for most severe psychiatric illness. Grievous outcomes occur in all systems of care everywhere. The Alameda County Medical Center is actively involved in continuous quality improvement efforts to improve our quality of care at all levels.

  • Therefore, we conclude that the charge of unethical behavior made in your article is unfair and incorrect. Our physicians and treatment teams are working to create the best possible outcomes in a very difficult situation. Our belief is that Alameda County residents and patients have a right to expect both the best possible care to patients and appropriate justification of each and every day of acute hospitalization.
    Kurt Biehl, MD, interim chair, department of psychiatry, and James Mittelberger, MD, president of the medical staff, Alameda County Medical Center

    CORRECTION
    The review of the N.E.R.D. album that ran in last week's Hearsay was incorrectly credited. It was written by Michael Ansaldo.

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