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Letters

DEALING WITH DIVERSITY

Erin Aubry Kaplan, in response to Marc Cooper’s article on my political transition [“The Devil and Mr. Hicks,” May 24–30], has crafted what must rank as the Weekly’s all-time poorest attempt at a journalistic hit piece [Cakewalk: “Joe, We Hardly Knew Ye,” May 31–June 6]. Instead of raising the ante by dealing directly with the issues, Kaplan goes for the lowest common denominator and simply attacks my motives. I welcome the challenge; I just wish it had been based on sounder reasoning.

After one tries to sort through her logic, the centerpiece of her attack seems to be that I have abandoned “black folks.” Odd. Let me get this straight. If I disagree with the tired old argument that white people conspire against blacks and other “minorities,” and believe that this viewpoint retards additional black social, economic and political progress, then I’ve abandoned blacks? This approach is frighteningly similar to the religious fundamentalist who resents any challenge to his or her beliefs.

Apparently, Kaplan’s view is that “blackness” equates with being “down” with black racialism. Here, she and I agree. But we also agree — sort of, I think — that leftist and black movement politics are linked, that there is no black political monolith, and that much of today’s black leadership is stagnant. However, she then whines that my work with David Horowitz, in her opinion, just simply goes too far. Okay, I’m a supporter of freedom of speech. It is troubling, however, that Kaplan never addresses the current status of black people in the American milieu. If race is really such a large part of everyday black life experiences today — beyond the pathetic, old-style rant of “the white man just won’t gimme a break” — factually, how is that manifested?

Her attack on me neatly avoids dealing with the issues that my defection raises. Has nothing really changed since Dr. King and other valiant civil rights figures assaulted the barricades of white supremacy? Despite the fact that many of today’s black and other minority-advocacy figures continue to look into the face of reality and argue that racism is as strong today as it’s ever been, most folks simply know better. Perhaps in Kaplan’s view, these issues are beyond challenge and unworthy of examination. But others, just as “black” as she, have looked at the issues and judged the current racial orthodoxy retrograde at best.

It is frankly puzzling that someone like Kaplan has come to represent such stuffy, backward views on race. She has reaped the rewards of a culturally rich, black middle-class lifestyle, and has equipped herself to be successful in life. Yet there she is, somehow wandering in “the American desert of place that has always paralleled the universe of American plenty.” Nonsense. Kaplan chooses to lift up an eclectic, artsy form of “blackness” that gives her the cover to operate within the confines of the black political elite, all the while perpetuating the dysfunctional view that blacks are “nomads” and a victimized people. While the black elite sit around and sip chilled Chardonnay and discuss the coming racial Armageddon, the vast majority of black people are concerning themselves with the issues all Americans worry about: safe streets, education for their kids, political representation and paying the bills.

In case Kaplan believes that only those on the right castigate identity politics, the brilliant Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawn rejected this set of beliefs for its reduction to a “coalition of self-centered minority groups and interests.” He offered that these groups are “about themselves, for themselves and nobody else.” Kaplan seems honestly offended that anyone “black” might disagree almost completely with her and America’s self-appointed black leaders regarding race and racial progress. She champions “diversity,” yet can’t seem to handle the fact that others may look at the same issues she does and come to completely different conclusions. That’s called intellectual diversity. Deal with it!

—Joe Hicks Los Angeles

Erin Aubry-Kaplan, in her very odd meditation, reputedly about what might or might not be in Joe Hicks’ cranium, was obviously not interested in Hicks but chiefly in her own obsession with the academic hair-splitting "identity politics" (cue laugh track). All I came away with was a sense of having wasted my time. Where was her editor?

—Marc S. Tucker Manhattan Beach

SECESSION

Re: D.J. Waldie’s secession article [“A Necessary City,” May 31–June 6]. What is this? I never read a more diffuse, convoluted piece of silliness. Just what was his point, anyway? He says the Valley secession movement is racist. But he doesn’t provide any proof of this accusation, and indeed he points up that the Valley will have a large Latino population whether it secedes or not.

He then argues that some of the Valley’s complaints are consumer issues. His main point seems to be that he doesn’t think that secession will do everything its backers say it will. He talks about how hard it will be for a new city to provide services. But he never disputes the pathetic quality of services from the city of Los Angeles, nor does he offer any solution. Just what is the point of his wordfest, anyway (other than the fact that the Weekly pays by the word)? Does he also write long, bloated articles arguing that battered women should stay with their spouses because — who knows — the next guy might beat them worse?

Just because some idiot knows how to string together words â doesn’t mean that the Weekly should give him a bully pulpit to spew nonsense. You already have Marc Cooper on the payroll, for crying out loud!

—Bill Cody Los Angeles

If D.J. Waldie — or Lalo Alcaraz, for that matter [cf. “L.A. Cucaracha,” May 31–June 6] — thinks the San Fernando Valley is some sort of upper-middle-class, lily-white enclave, then you are very ignorant about the Valley. Not that ignorance should stop you from having an opinion of a community that you don’t live in, or excuse you from the race-baiting that is so characteristic of L.A. politicians. And what do all politicians want? Power! And if the city is split up, then the city politicians will have that much less of it.

—Steve Salo Van Nuys

Regarding the story about the secession movements of Los Angeles — it is great to finally see alternate, more realistic views on the subject and not another revolutionary-glorification piece. I would like to address those who think they are going to save tax dollars and expenses by breaking from L.A. with an admittedly unglamorous analogy: Which is cheaper, living with your parents or moving out on your own?

—Yogi George San Gabriel

D.J. Waldie’s melodramatic, meaningless diatribe is a joke, right? "To be a citizen of Los Angeles means, in this hour, not to dream, but to pick up the burden and gift of bearing witness to this place" — what the hell does that mean? Reality to witnessing citizen of Lakewood Waldie: There is nothing "vulgar" or "cowardly" about citizens working together, petitioning the government and organizing themselves for better local control — it’s called participating in a democracy, and it’s how this country was founded. "Backward-looking"? Boy, have you got it wrong. It’s forward thinking at it’s finest. Can’t any of you think outside the box?

Under the "never reorganize" theory, Waldie and his fellow writers appear to think it will be just fine when, 200 years from now, there’s a city of Los Angeles with 100 million people. Sorry, but that is not local government, which is what cities are supposed to be. Cities are the only voluntary form of government. You have to live in a state, and a county. But cities only come into existence when a group of citizens gets together and chooses to form a local governing organization. It’s obvious if you think even a little about it, that as cities grow beyond a certain size, there should be a systematic, non-hysterical method for breaking them back down into more manageable entities — maintaining local government. Under Waldie’s theory, why have any cities at all? Or counties for that matter? How about just citizens of the State of California? Of the U.S.?

A reorganization of Los Angeles will rejuvenate all areas of the city. It will empower the poor and provide the average citizen with closer representation, and an opportunity to regain control of what has become an amorphous, corrupt system that subsidizes the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

—Ellen Fitzmaurice West Hills

Of all the media in Los Angeles, I felt for sure that L.A. Weekly would "get it." I have spent years reading your objective, hard-hitting work in exposing stupidity and corruption in L.A. City government. If anyone could understand the need for change, it would be you.

So what do we get when you decide to approach the secession issue? A knee-jerk series of articles that attack the idea, written by opponents who in most cases don’t know the Madrid Theater from Hansen Dam. Arguments talking about "white flight," based on how the Valley was populated a generation ago. Ignoring any possibility that residents of the Valley have significant grievances about government services.

Why don’t you do an article on the disparity of city services in the northeast Valley, where low-income minority residents are regularly denied the benefits of federal grants because they are not "contiguous" to the downtown minority populations? Where were you when the Woodland Hills Neighborhood Council racially "cherry picked" territory, including Topanga Mall and Boeing, but excluded directly adjacent minority areas, with the full support of the L.A. Department of Neighborhood Empowerment? Did you cover the ensuing hearing where 50 people, including spokesmen from the Latino community, testified in protest, only to be rebuffed without comment by the ruling board? In reporting polling data, you omitted the information that the greatest support for secession was to be found in the largely Hispanic northeast Valley. Why was that?

I could give you example after example of legitimate individual instances where the Valley is being defrauded. I’m not talking about not getting "our fair share." I know that a city has an obligation to support areas that need it, and you don’t look for exact parity in funding. But $1.7 billion taken out of our area for rapid-transit projects, without a penny in return? How about $1 billion or more for erecting a downtown football temple that nobody wants?

Don’t give me articles about the theology of a "great city." I live in the real world, and I want a city that works. Reading the L.A. Weekly for years has convinced me that what I have is a city dominated by hacks. The downtown power players have had more than enough time to address the root causes that have driven the Valley, Hollywood and the Harbor area to want out — and every effort for reasonable, moderate change has been received with adamant opposition. So don’t tell me the burden is on us to prove that secession would be better. Getting out of the current mess is the first step of a long journey.

You don’t have to agree. Just don’t deny the dignity and legitimacy of the grievances of the 200,000 residents who signed the secession petition. Engage in an honest debate on the real issues. Depict the Valley as it is now, not as it was. That way, when the issue is decided by a vote, we won’t have to spend years in further acrimony based on condescension and parochial assumptions.

—Ronald Clary Los Angeles

Your rather hyporbolic set of articles published on the secession issue appear to imply that, when Los Angeles is split, there will be a revolution. The blood of the poor will run down Sunset Boulevard, and all those cool restaurants on Sunset Plaza will vanish in a puff of smoke. The skyscrapers of downtown will topple, and there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth on the streets of Watts.

Wait a minute. This doesn't sound quite right.

I believe in local control, and quite honestly, so should you. Take the recent mayoral election. If there was a separate Valley, it would have been ruled by Steve Soberoff, a fellow who seemed to have really thought about how he wanted to run things. L.A. proper, in turn, would have been run by Antonio Villagrosa, who likewise has really thought about how he thinks the city should be shaped. Instead, because the poor are afraid of Soberoff and the rich are afraid of Villagrosa, we got a lumpy compromise in the shape of James Hahn — and I haven't heard the Weekly praising Hahn lately.

You try to brush off the quality-of-services question like an irritating ant. All of California was affected by Proposition 13. All of California has suffered financially to some extent. And yet the small independent cities — Glendale, Culver City, Santa Monica, Newport Beach and so on — have somehow managed to provide services at a significantly higher level than L.A. If for some reason you think L.A. should remain a massively centralized bureaucratic mess, you have an obligation to explain how that's going to help its citizens, who have historically been served so poorly. You mention a decentralization plan, but you fail to mention it was created as an attempt to fend off a split. Without at least the threat of a split, we wouldn't have prospects for improvement at all.

If you ask me, I'd like to see independent cities all over the place — a City of Woodland Hills, a City of Hollywood, a City of Sylmar, and so on. This is not so much about money as giving control back to a people capable of taking it. All the money in the world won't help if it's chewed up by a centralized bureaucracy. As we have seen, and as the Weekly has reported so many times, that's a recipe for apathy and benign neglect — problems your paper has been (quite rightly!) fighting, or trying to fight, for decades. I consider the split to be a first step toward this decentralized vision.

—David H Dennis david@amazing.com Woodland Hills

D.J. Waldie's assertion that "secessionism is contemptuous of poverty" is backwards. It's the L.A. city government that gives the poor the callous shaft. Los Angeles spends less than 2 percent of its budget on affordable-housing programs — one of the dead lowest levels in the county.

But somehow the city found money to subsidize the poor millionaire owners of Staples Center and the destitute movie stars that needed the new, subsidized Academy Award building. Our allegedly compassionate council blew $300 million in taxpayers' money for their palatial City Hall rehab. And now they're working on a scheme to subsidize billionaire NFL owners.

Listen, L.A. — and this means everyone: the Valley, Watts, Westchester, etc. If you truly want to help the poor, then vote for the breakup. Grab for your local control, then scratch, bite and kick to get your money back from the pockets of the powerful wealthy who want nothing more than to continue using your money for their projects. Then you can direct it to those truly in need, and to programs that actually help.

—Dale Ma Sherman Oaks

One error in Waldie's Valley secession story: Carey McWilliams' first name was misspelled.

—George L. Garrigues Los Angeles

 

PAKISTAN’S FOLLY

I was amused to read in Ali Ahmed Rind’s “Letter From Pakistan” [May 31–June 6] that Pakistan has lost half its territory because of three wars with India. He is trying to mislead your readers. If he is referring to the secession of East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh in January 1972, he cannot attribute that to India. The people of East Pakistan agitated for years for freedom from various internal oppressions and ultimately gained independence. India merely helped the freedom fighters. Pakistan lost its eastern wing because of its own folly; no country can pull on with two parts, a thousand miles apart.

—Bibekananda Ray Los Angeles

TRUE PATRIOTS

Re: Bruno Shapiro’s “Indicting Ashcroft” [May 31–June 6]. My congratulations to your newspaper for the excellent article. True patriots are now asking the questions that should be asked. It is becoming more apparent every day that the September 11 murder of more than 3,000 Americans could have been prevented. To the people who say, “Forget it and move on”: Tell that to all those who lost loved ones on that awful, bright, sunny September morning.

—Martin Gavin Jackson Heights, New York