Albion Monitor

+ Did you hear about that company caught using deceptive advertising? After years of fighting a federal lawsuit, the company has now agreed to include disclaimers with their product. No, it wasn't one of the tobacco companies; it was Weight Watchers International Inc. And you didn't hear about this settlement because almost no mention appeared in any media.

At the end of December, the Federal Trade Commission announced an agreement with the company, ending a four-year suit. In 1993, the FTC charged that print and broadcast ads from 1988 to 1992 used deceptive customer testimonials and made claims about weight loss that the company couldn't back up.

Weight Watchers must now include the statement, "For many dieters, weight loss is temporary." In any atypical testimonials about weight loss, the company would also have to clearly state that dieters should not expect similar results, the agency said. It also requires the company to include more disclosures about its customers' actual experiences in any claims about keeping weight off.

Why did the press ignore this consumer victory? Perhaps because of its end- of- year timing; editors love to run health features about dieting after the holidays. A scan of stories appearing around New Year's finds an assortment of diet tips, stories about consumers mourning the loss of diet pill fen-phen, and other lightweight reading. The few mentions of Weight Watchers concerned mostly spokesperson Sarah Ferguson or parent corporation H.J. Heinz. (January 23, 1998)

+ Men are worth more than women -- at least, when it comes to reimbursement for medical care. Recent studies found that men are repaid an average of 37 percent more than women for equivalent medical help.

The findings, reported Dr. Barbara Goff in a recent issue of Gynecologic Oncology, compared 24 surgical procedures performed on men and women that were nearly identical in amount of work and level of difficulty. In 4 out of 5 cases, Medicare put a higher value on the men's procedures, sometimes paying twice as much.

Although last year Medicare increased the "relative value unit" for many women's procedures in an effort to close this gender gap, Goff concludes that more adjustments are needed. Also, the inequality may be even widespread because insurance companies and HMOs base their own rates on Medicare. (January 23, 1998)

+ Recent testimony before the Oklahoma City grand jury continues to debunk evidence popular among conspiracy theorists. The grand jury heard last week from Melvin Sumter, a former Oklahoma County sheriff's deputy who was at the bombing site for 14 hours after the bomb went off. He showed the grand jury more than two hours worth of videotape he took that day.

Conspiracy advocates contend that Sumter's video lends credence to their claims that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms stored explosives in the building and that there could have been more than one explosion. Sumter denies that the videotape shows plastic explosives being removed from the building. He said small arms, ammunition, pistols, shotgun shells and bullets are the only items shown.

"In fact, in the video I have got, you can see them throwing the stuff from one area to another," Sumter said. "If it were explosives, do you think some idiot would sit there and start throwing explosives around?" (January 23, 1998)

+ On the surface, it was just another heartbreaking adoption battle. Months after signing the papers relinquishing his twin baby girls, the birth father wanted them back. Normally, adoption laws would prohibit such a claim; but because the father is Native American, he sought custody under a special federal law for the welfare of Indian children. After a four year struggle that included appeals to the Supreme Court, the California birth parents recently conceded custody, allowing the children to stay with the suburban Ohio couple.

Events began in November, 1993, when the girls were born in Los Angeles. Through an adoption lawyer, the young parents -- desperately poor and living in a shelter with two previous children -- signed the necessary legal papers for adoption. Advised that it might cause problems if he identified himself as Native, birth father Richard Adams checked the box on the information form for "white." A few days after birth, the children were turned over to the adopting white couple, who flew back to Columbus, Ohio with the infants.

Here the tale becomes confusing, so follow closely: Only after their adoption did Adams tell his mother anything about the twins. Together, as members of the Dry Creek Pomo (Geyserville) tribe, they asked for the twins' return under federal law. But to complicate matters further, neither Adams or his mother were officially members of the tribe until April 1994 -- five months after the girls were born.

Official tribal membership became the legal keystone in a series of victories and defeats in the case. In June, 1995, the Los Angeles Superior Court ordered the twins returned to Adams, but the second district Court of Appeals stopped that with an unusual stay. A few months later, the same court unanimously decided that Adams' children weren't covered by the law. (That decision, available on the web, contains other valuable background.) Both the California and U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

That's where the story ends for readers of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, which featured a front page story on December 4, complete with a picture of the girls and their happy adopting mom. But the case has become far more than a tug-of-war over these two little children. Fueled by emotion, ignorance -- and probably a little racism -- it has developed into a serious assault upon a precious Native legal right.

The federal law behind the debate is the the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Sometimes called "the heart of child welfare in Indian Country," the Act has not been changed since passage in 1978. It is an important law; before it was passed, almost 1 out of 3 Native children were taken from their families and placed in foster homes, state boarding schools, or adopted by whites. The Act acknowledged cultural differences between mainstream and Native society, where children are almost always raised by an extended family.

The Ohio couple wanting to adopt the children said that Adams' retroactive tribal membership exploited a loophole in the Act that needed to be closed. They demanded changes to the Act that would require a parent to be a tribal member or living on a reservation at the time of a child's birth. While this may seem like a minor technical change, it would have sweeping implications.

Like the father of the Pomo twins, many Native people do not have formal ties to their tribe or live on a reservation. By shifting the focus from the child's eligibilty to the parent's current tribal membership, many children would not be covered by the Act. "[This] would change the definition of 'Indian Child,'" Gaiashkibos, president of the National Congress of American Indians said at 1995 Congressional hearings.

At the heart of the debate is an even more sensitive question: Does the government have the right to say who is an Indian? "The Tribes are trying to say Indian children must be returned, and we say they're not Indian children," said Jane Gorman, attorney for the Ohio family in 1995. Gorman and others stressed that the girls are only 3/32nd Pomo.

But to many tribes -- such as the Dry Creek Pomo -- the "blood quantum" criteria isn't important; membership depends only on being a direct descendant from a recognized ancestor.

And the emphasis on tribal status or living on the reservation rubs salt in an open wound. The Dry Creek Pomo are recognized by the federal government, but more than but more than 120 tribes are seeking official status, a time-consuming process that can take a decade or more.

These facts (and more) underscored the complexity of the case. But the press instead reported it as merely an adoption struggle. Ohio papers supported the adopting parents in emotional editorials and features; even the Associated Press contributed a simplistic story that skipped most essential facts. It was just assumed that anyone concerned with the "children's best interests" would agree that they'd be better off with the affluent white suburban couple.

Ohio Senator John Glenn and Rep. Deborah Pryce quickly introduced bills in the House and Senate to "reform" the ICWA. A network of adoption advocates and church groups launched campaigns to send letters to congress, some enclosed with pictures of the twins. Those bills faltered, but were reintroduced last year.

Although the case of the Adams' twins is now settled, Native activists watch in horror as Congressional efforts to change the ICWA steamroll on. Latest to tinker with the bills is Senator Slade Gorton (R - West Virginia), who added new amendments reportedly to please right-wing interests.

Since 1998 is an election year, it's likely that Congress will narrowly see these as "pro adoption" bills, and a sure-winner with voters. Expect votes on Senate Bill 569 and companion H.R. 1082 in coming months. The National Indian Child Welfare Association has created a public policy web page to report on developments.

As for the Adams twins, the final settlement ruled that the girls can visit the Dry Creek Reservation every other year. (The tribe has officially made them members.) Attorney Gorman told an Akron newspaper that the Ohio family will have somebody "sensitive to Native American" cultural issues work with the children. (Jan 21, 1998)

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