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Letters

PELOSI'S MIDDLE WAY

AS A LIFELONG DEMOCRAT AND SOMEONE who knows a thing or two about the party, I was disappointed to read Doug Ireland's misguided article "Pelosi's Problem" [November 15-21]. Instead of trumpeting Nancy Pelosi's significant accomplishment — the first woman in U.S. history to assume either party's top leadership position — Ireland's one-sided diatribe against her represents a missed opportunity. It's not enough that Republicans are dumping on Pelosi by alleging that she's a "San Francisco liberal." Now the extreme left is attacking her because she's "not liberal enough." Hopefully, as Pelosi begins her tenure as Minority Leader of the 108th Congress, the Weekly's readers, and the vast majority of Americans, will begin to see her as a shrewd, polished, middle-of-the-road Democrat with a deep commitment to helping people who truly need help and, ultimately, to getting things done.

—Joseph R. Cerrell
Los Angeles

COOPER'S PEACE

KUDOS TO MARC COOPER FOR EFFECTIVELY taking the far left wing to task in his Dissonance column ["Our Peace Movement, Not Theirs," December 13-19], and for not being intimidated by their attacks against him. For too long, the majority voice of reasoned, committed and principled liberals in this country has been drowned out by the ravings of self-deluded revolutionaries, communists and anarchists who are devoted, one-trick experts at only one thing — tearing down the work of others. They have every right to have and express their beliefs, but not as representatives of the liberal left. We need to take back the liberal message and get it out of the hands of these interlopers who detract attention from our legitimate message.

This is a critical time for any real patriot on the left. Now more than ever we need to be united and effective in tackling the right-wing assault on America. We have neither the time nor the luxury of being able to accommodate and pander to the far-left fringe. We have more important things to attend to right now, like confronting this disastrous administration and Congress, taking back the Democratic Party from under its Republican spell or, failing that, getting started on building a third way. Once and for all, let's get our priorities straight and do something pivotal and important on the left instead of playing our usual role as amusing and entertaining side shows to the real process taking place in front of us.

—Brynley Lee
Glendale

RE: MARC COOPER'S "OUR PEACE MOVEMENT, Not Theirs." It was nice to see a photo in the paper of some of the people in our group, Neighbors for Peace and Justice, Studio City location. Unfortunately, instead of identifying us, the caption said, "Signs of dissent among the dissenters," which refers to the article, but has nothing to do with who we are. This is ironic, because the point of the piece, spelled out in the last third, is that new groups and ideas are surfacing in the anti-war movement that appeal to a broad constituency. That's us. We represent a new approach on the grass-roots level. Weekly neighborhood vigils are popping up all over L.A. with minimal organizing behind them, because a real sense of urgency exists; people can't wait for the next major demonstration to voice their opposition to Bush and his plans for a pre-emptive war against Iraq. When they find out there is a place close by, they come, many every week. At present we have five locations; other peace groups hold vigils as well. These events may fly under the radar of the media (including Mr. Cooper's radar), but their impact is growing; at each demonstration we get our message out to thousands of motorists and hundreds of pedestrians. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

So come on down, Mr. Cooper, and get to know us. You may even have a site in your neighborhood. And bring that photographer with you — maybe she can include you in the shot this time.

—Steve Fine
North Hollywood

MARC COOPER WRITES, "FOR FUNDAMENTAList is the most polite and diplomatic characterization I can attach to a small choir of leftists who as much as declared jihad on me and a couple of other writers when we suggested that at least a tad of critical thought should be applied in building a peace movement."

That would be fine if there was time. The whole world is about to go up in smoke, so Cooper is a little late to form his own Silver Lake Camp David.

"The new anti-war movement . . ." Talk about shooting ducks in a barrel! It's not like there is some huge anti-war movement out there.

"Hardly the war to win over the millions we need to stop Bush." I protest with the All-Faith Group in front of Farmers Market. These peaceful, gentle old-timers light candles and hold up signs saying "Peace is Patriotic." Who is that alienating?

"Leftists who as much as declared jihad on me." Jihad against Marc Cooper? Dream on! As if anyone gives a fuck about him.

—Electra Tree

Los Angeles

THE WEEK WITH BERNHARD

THIS IS JUST A QUICK THANK YOU TO Brendan Bernhard for a well-written and balanced piece on Patrick Buchanan and Taki ["Do Two Rights Make a Wrong?," cover story, December 13-19]. It was a good read, start to finish.

—J. Baxter
St. Petersburg, Florida

AS QUOTED IN "DO TWO RIGHTS MAKE a Wrong?," Bill Press is wrong, wrong, wrong about public attitudes toward immigration. The reason there's no organizing is that the courts have thwarted the people's will. Most analysts say that if Proposition 187 were on the ballot today, it would pass again by a huge margin. Doesn't Press read the letters in his daily newspapers? People do not accept that illegals are here. In our frustration we've just chosen to disengage from politics and hunker down in our separate communities.

—Sandra Martin
Los Angeles

I'M WRITING THIS MESSAGE AFTER READING Brendan Bernhard's "Minus 10" piece about the Muslim terrorism storyline on Fox's 24 series [Box Populi, December 13-19]. Because, as a TV critic, I wrote about some Muslims' unease about how the show would handle this storyline, and about the producers' insistence that they felt compelled to explore this territory post-9/11, I was looking forward to reading your take on the issue. But I was stopped short by a flabbergasting sentence regarding America's treatment of Arabs post-9/11: "Personally I doubt we're quite that bad." Bernhard then goes on to describe how an Arab shopkeeper he knows felt free to call George Bush a fucking idiot.

Perhaps it's because I just finished reading a story on FBI stats showing that hate crimes against Arabs have jumped from the smallest category to the largest-growing, from 28 in 2000 to more than 400 in 2001. Or maybe it's because I spent time talking to someone from a local Mosque who has had to wipe animal feces and eggs off the building more than once, post-9/11.

Isn't the alternative media supposed to be the place where you strip away complacency and strive for social justice? Somehow, I think running a column that cynically denigrates concern about how America is treating Arabs, and about how one of TV's most trendy shows is portraying Muslim terrorists, doesn't serve that goal very well.

—Eric Deggans
TV critic, St. Petersburg Times
St. Petersburg, Florida

DRUG WARS

THANK YOU FOR RUNNING DUNCAN Campbell's excellent piece about the insane sentence given Steve Treleaven for growing marijuana. ["The Terror War on Drugs," December 13-19]. Alas, Treleaven is not alone. In the Sacramento area, Bryan Epis was recently sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for the "crime" of growing marijuana for a local medical marijuana co-op. In Los Angeles, Scott Imler of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center faces the possibility of a similar sentence, again for providing relief to AIDS and cancer patients.

As for the alleged link between marijuana and terrorism, the Ottawa Citizen said it best in a July 18, 2002, editorial: "Why do the fanatics of the world zero in on the drug trade, instead of smuggling liquor or coffee, sugar or chocolate bon-bons? It's because drugs are illegal." It's easy — and largely appropriate — to blame conservative drug-war ideologues in the Bush administration for these harsh policies. But it's also past time to start asking why Democrats have been so consistently timid in criticizing our nation's cruel and pointless war on marijuana users. Even alleged liberals like Barbara Boxer and Xavier Becerra have been missing in action.

—Bruce Mirken

Director of Communications, Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

DUNCAN CAMPBELL'S OP-ED WAS right on target. Drug czar John Walter's attempts to link the war on drugs to the war on terror began almost immediately after September 11. His opportunistic drug-terror ad campaign first premiered amidst beer commercials during the Super Bowl. International terrorists have unfortunately caught on to something gangster Al Capone learned in the 1920s during alcohol prohibition. There are enormous profits to be made on the black market.

With drug-war budgets at risk during a time of shifting national priorities, drug warriors are cynically using drug prohibition's collateral damage to justify more of the same. The illicit drug of choice in America is domestically grown marijuana, not Colombian cocaine or Afghan heroin. Taxing and regulating marijuana would render the drug war obsolete. As long as marijuana remains illegal and distributed by organized crime, consumers will continue to come into contact with drugs like cocaine and heroin. Naturally, government bureaucrats whose jobs depend on never-ending drug war prefer to blame the plant itself for the alleged "gateway" to hard drugs.

Either the government doesn't believe its own propaganda or federal marijuana laws are more important than protecting the country from terrorism. By conducting paramilitary raids on California's voter-approved medical-marijuana suppliers, the very same federal government that claims illicit drug use funds terrorism is forcing cancer and AIDS patients into the hand of street dealers.

—Robert Sharpe
Program Officer, Drug Policy Alliance
Washington, D.C

WHEN IS A POLICY NOT A POLICY?

IN "ANYONE SEEN AN ECONOMIC POLICY" [December 13-19], Harold Meyerson asked the question Who sets the president's economic policy? If you would please direct Mr. Meyerson's attention to the president's December 3, 2002, speech in Louisiana, he sets it out there. He wants to leave the economy alone. That, all by itself, is an economic policy. It is the one that was in effect before President Kennedy came along. LBJ continued with the activism, and then Jimmy Carter just took buckets of money. You might also tell Mr. Meyerson he must make plenty of money if he can afford to snort at a $300 tax rebate. It meant a lot to me.

—Mrs. Beverly Ryan
Delray Beach, Florida



(Photo by Charles Sugimura)

A Big Appetite

Yung Portugal, 1961-2002

BY SARA CATANIA

SHE WAS DELICATE — "LIKE AN ORCHID" — but an orchid who loved to box. A reserved mother of two who kept to herself but preferred a bear hug to a handshake. A deeply religious woman who once fantasized about joining a rock band.

Yung Portugal, the 41-year-old controller for the L.A. Weekly and O.C. Weekly, embodied these seemingly contradictory traits. But perhaps most confounding was the image of her strong, athletic self felled by the liver cancer that caused her death on Christmas Eve. "It's hard to believe someone you've been with nearly half your life is no longer here," said Yung's husband, Jim Portugal, who first met her nearly 20 years ago.

On Saturday, the Fullerton Seventh-Day Adventist Church, where she sang in the choir, held a memorial service. "She's resting now," read a passage from the service program, "with no pain or suffering."

Yung's influence on the two weekly newspapers began as soon as she was hired, about two years ago. "Before Yung we had gone through four controllers in five years," said Lynne Foland, vice president, human resources, for Village Voice Media, which owns the weeklies. "We were in chaos. Yung had this very calm, mature demeanor. She really helped turn the department around."

In the days after Yung's death, friends, family and co-workers remembered her gracious charm, her spirituality and her big appetite. Inevitably, when talking about Yung, the subject comes around to food. Food as an entrée into romance and friendship. Food as an expression of gratitude and a source of comfort. By all accounts, Yung, who moved to Chicago from Seoul in 1970 with her parents and six siblings, was a voracious eater, embracing both quantity and variety in her gustatory adventures.

The courtship with Jim Portugal began over a series of lunches when the two were working together at their first accounting jobs, for Wrigley, the giant gum maker, in Chicago. Jim was impressed with Yung's appetite and described her to his family as "the girl who likes to eat a lot." She would often prepare chop chae, a traditional Korean dish, for family and friends, and her marinades were a perennial favorite on the barbecue circuit. Former L.A. Weekly publisher Michael Sigman, who hired Yung and called her "one of my favorite employees," remembered a lunch meeting with Yung at Musso & Frank. He had a mineral water and a sandwich. Yung ordered a black Russian and an enormous plate of chicken cacciatore.

Lynne Foland says it was Yung who got her into sushi. "We would go out and she would always get me to try these very strange and interesting things," Lynne said. Over lunch one day, Yung persuaded Lynne to take up boxing, and the two would often go to the gym together after work, hitting the bags with gusto. "Yung was really proud of her boxing," Lynne said. "She was always practicing her punches."

Shortly after Yung went on sick leave in June, Charles Sugimura, who worked with her in the accounting department and had helped organize a surprise birthday party for her at the office the month before, went to her house to drop off her mail. She had prepared a roast chicken and invited him to stay. He declined, explaining that he was on his way home to dinner. She placed a plate of food in front of him anyway. "You better eat that," she said. He did.

Even before Yung got sick, Charles and other employees in the accounting department took a protective interest in their boss, whose black Acura was often the first car in the Weekly lot each morning and the last remaining at night. "We all felt that she was shouldering too much of the work herself," he said. "The goal was to help her so she could get home earlier to her kids and her husband." Soon Yung started leaving earlier. When she did have to stay late, she would turn on her speakerphone so she could listen to her sons, 11-year-old Stephen and 8-year-old Bryan, as they practiced the piano and clarinet.

"She worked hard, and she was so committed, she made everyone else want to work hard too," said Becky Leasure, credit and collections manager. Once Yung told Becky that as a girl she had dreamed of joining a rock band. "It was the last thing you would think, this little Korean girl in a rock band," Becky said. "But that was Yung. Always coming up with something that would surprise you."

Later, when Yung got sick, her staff rallied around her. "Yung reminded me of an orchid, she had such a beautiful personality and she always handled things in a very delicate manner," said Myra Henry, the Weekly's cashier. "When she started having back problems, we would talk about home remedies to try and help the pain or special teas and herbs to drink. She would laugh, but say she would try them anyway."

After Yung left the Weekly, many employees kept in touch, but after Thanksgiving, phone calls went unanswered. Then, on Christmas Eve, Charles said, days before he was informed of Yung's death, he was overcome by the urge to go to midnight Mass. "I hadn't been to church in 20 years," he said. "I'm not even Catholic." Once the Mass began, his thoughts went to Yung. "I said a prayer for her. She was so much with the church and God. Maybe she somehow made me go."

Just like she made you eat the chicken?

"Yeah. Maybe."



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