WHO WE ARE--The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, that’s the group that picks the Oscar nominees and winners, faces its first big test on January 14. That’s the day that it will announce who its members nominated for this year’s Academy Awards.

It’s a big test for a good reason. A year ago the Academy was publicly embarrassed, almost humiliated, by the avalanche of bad press, and threats from civil rights leaders to picket and boycott the awards ceremony, it got. It was under withering fire for having a near unbroken parade of white men and women troop to the stage to snare Oscars. It was the whitest Academy Awards in nearly two decades. It was so white that Award ceremony host Neil Patrick Harris (photo below) got grim faced laughs when he cracked, “Tonight we celebrate Hollywood’s best and whitest, sorry … brightest.”

The Hollywood industry shot callers did not want a repeat of that image fiasco. They solemnly promised to do everything in their power to do better with the Oscars. They promised to do due diligence in breaking up the clubby, chummy nearly all white, mostly male membership of the Academy. That meant encouraging more minorities in the industry to apply for membership.

They announced that they would launch a new initiative to get more minorities on the Academy staff. They would encourage the studios and independents to scour the woods for more black, Hispanic, Asian and female filmmakers and performers to bring into the industry establishment. They repeatedly pointed out that the film industry moguls meant business in their pledge to do more to break up the good ole’ white guy club. The proof of that offered to bolster their claim to do more to make a racial and gender make-over was that the Academy’s own president was an African-American woman.

The debate over what Hollywood should or shouldn’t do to make the film business more ethnically and gender representative of the country and the film-going audience has raged for decades. The paltry number of black, Hispanic, Asian screen performers, directors and behind the camera talent who has been nominated, let alone who have won Oscars, has been endlessly cited. The landmark 2002 Academy Awards in which blacks won the best actor and actress award, or the even more landmark 2005 Awards in which five out of the 20 nominations of black actors, now seems like ancient history. The Academy has sped backward since those heady days.

The push to get Hollywood to open its doors wide to minorities and women up and down the filmmaking food chain is not academic. Minority and women filmgoers yearly pony up tens of millions to help bolster the film business.

What’s presented on the big and little screen represents America’s cultural face of what the industry and the country is supposed to look like. It’s not just about a glitzy on screen image it’s about transforming an industry whose business is to entertains into a business that reflects and fairly represents its clientele, that’s the ticket buying public, and provides real opportunities for a part of that clientele to work and rise to the top in that industry.

This goes far beyond ladling out a statute on the podium to a handful of hand-picked select and elite film talent every year. Still, it’s the glitter and glamor of that ceremony and those awards that millions on ritual cue tune their TV sets into every year. They sit for hours watching, and along the way identify with and revel in the mirth, ecstasy and fantasy of the Oscar winners.

The Academy is, of course, from its words and promises and the embarrassment of a year ago, is well aware of the industry’s mass power and allure, and even its responsibility to literally put a better and different face on its business. The problem though is how to get those faces in its inner sanctum. 

It’s a high bar to scale. A prospective member has to be sponsored by two current members of the Academy. Or, they must have been nominated for an Oscar. There’s more. If they can get over that bar they have to pass muster by the Academy’s Board of Governors who have the final say so over who gets in. The Academy hasn’t given any indication that it will loosen its admission standards anytime soon, if ever. 

Hollywood’s business is what it has been from the day in 1929 when it held its first Academy Awards ceremony and that’s to entertain and not crusade for racial and gender diversity. That won’t change. But what can and should is the face of those who receive its awards for entertaining.

In 2015, all eyes watched an Oscars ceremony that was a mostly white guy’s show. All eyes will again be on the Oscars to see what’s changed. The message then is not another white Oscars.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. For more of Hutchinson insight.) 

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

 

 

BOOK WATCH-Social progress occurs because liberal-minded reformers defeat conservative resistance.

That’s how slavery ended – and women gained the right to vote – and couples won a right to use birth control – and Social Security pensions were afforded to retirees – and labor was allowed to organize – and Prohibition was reversed – and blacks overcame Jim Crow segregation – and gay sex was decriminalized – and Medicare and Medicaid were established – and Sabbath “blue laws” were abolished – and censorship of movies and books ended – and health coverage was expanded under the Affordable Care Act – and pollution controls were enforced – and gays gained a right to marry – and many other humane advances occurred.

This week, Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero will release his book Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections). He says conservatives often feel society shifting away from their cherished privileges and prejudices – for example; they feel “anxiety about the demise of the patriarchal family or Anglo-American dominance or ‘Christian America.’” Too late, they raise an outcry and fight a furious resistance, but the trend can’t be stopped.

“In almost every case since the founding of the republic,” Prothero wrote, “conservatives have fired the first shots in our culture wars. Equally often, liberals have won… [and] a liberal win becomes part of the new status quo and eventually fades from our collective memory. No conservative today wants to disenfranchise Mormons or outlaw five o’clock cocktails. So these victories no longer even appear to be ‘liberal.’ They are simply part of what it means to be an American.”

The professor added:

“America’s culture wars are won by liberals … Gays and lesbians get marriage. An ‘infidel’ (Jefferson) and then a ‘papist’ (Kennedy) get the White House. Nearly as predictably as night follows day, those who declare war on ‘infidels’ or Catholics or the sins of the 1920s or the abominations of the 1960s go down in defeat. Liberals win because they typically have the force of American traditions on their side, not least the force of the Bill of Rights itself, which on any fair reading protects the rights of minorities against the impositions of majorities. Liberals also win because the causes conservatives pick to rev up their supporters are, surprisingly, lost from the start.”

Prothero spotlights five religious-racial-moral battles in America to prove his point. The first battle was a showdown in the 1790s when conservative churchmen branded Thomas Jefferson a “howling atheist” in league with violent radicals of the French Revolution. The struggle involved dispute over whether America was “a Christian nation.”

Elections of 1796 and 1800 “turned into a cosmic battle between God and the devil, and America’s first culture war was on,” Prothero wrote. Alexander Hamilton called Jefferson “an atheist in religion and a fanatic in politics.” Amid the tumult, “conservatives scapegoated immigrants as ‘hordes of ruffians’ and ‘revolutionary vermin’” (somewhat like today’s Republican denunciations of Hispanics and Muslims).

In the end, Jefferson triumphed, and America became more inclusive of unorthodox people.

The second culture war involved a wave of violent “nativist” Protestant attacks on Catholics around America. In 1844, Catholic-Protestant hatred triggered a cannon battle in the streets of Philadelphia, killing dozens. Anti-Catholic riots and church burning ensued into the 1850s, spawning the “America for Americans” Know-Nothing Party, which won 75 seats in Congress in 1854. Gradually, hatred of Catholics receded, but Protestant prejudice lingered until Kennedy won the presidency in 1960.

The third culture war was hostility and violence toward Mormons and their polygamy practice. Latter-Day Saints founder Joseph Smith and his brother were murdered by an anti-Mormon mob in Illinois in 1844. Also, “Mormon leaders would be sued, jailed, beaten, stripped naked, tarred and feathered, and murdered,” the professor wrote. But this wave eventually faded.

The fourth culture war was Prohibition in the 1920s after evangelists and fundamentalists succeeded in banning alcohol. The struggle included conservative alarms over flappers, jazz, race-mixing, smoking, cosmetics, hair-bobbing, Sunday golf – and even evolution, as crystallized by the “Scopes Monkey Trial.” Government-enforced sobriety bred bootleggers, organized crime, and bribery of police and prosecutors. In the end, liberals won the right for Americans to drink if they wished. Conservative churches were defeated, and Prohibition ended.

The current culture war arose as a backlash against the tumultuous 1960s when young Americans loosed the sexual revolution and war-denouncing counterculture. Racial desegregation, women’s right to choose abortion, and the banning of government-led school prayer have further outraged conservatives. The right wing “[has seen] American society drifting away from them, erasing forms of culture they held dear.”

Over time, most Americans have accepted liberal victories, but today Tea Party hard-liners still sound right-wing trumpets. Will culture wars continue forever? Will progressives keep pushing for more personal freedoms? Dr. Prothero concludes:

Liberals can take comfort in the fact that they almost always win our cultural battles – that the arc of American cultural politics bends toward more liberty, not less.”

(James Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail and is provided to CityWatch by Peace Voice) 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 3, 2016

WAGING WAR ON BIG MONEY-When it ruled Monday that California lawmakers can ask for voters’ opinions on campaign-spending laws, the state Supreme Court underscored “that the ultimate power of our government is vested in the people,” Common Cause senior vice president Karen Hobert Flynn declared in the wake of the decision.

By upholding the legality of Proposition 49 -- which would ask voters whether Congress should propose an amendment overturning the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United   -- the court spoke “directly to the question we have faced since the Citizens United ruling,” Hobert Flynn continued. “Are we a democracy of, by, and for the people, or are we to be ruled by an elite, moneyed class, where the power of government rests in the hands of a few wealthy special interests?”

The San Jose Mercury News reported on the 6-1 decision:

The California Supreme Court on Monday for the most part upheld the state Legislature’s power to put nonbinding, advisory measures on the ballot -- allowing state politicians to essentially test the waters on issues with voters without actually enacting new laws. The justices left some questions unanswered as to how far the Legislature can go in using such measures in the future.

The unprecedented legal test stems from Proposition 49, a measure removed from the November 2014 ballot by the state’s high court that sought voter views on whether Congress should be asked to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling on unlimited independent campaign spending.

“Long-standing historical practice among the states demonstrates a common understanding that legislatures may formally consult with and seek nonbinding input from their constituents on matters relevant to the federal constitutional amendment process,” the ruling read in part.

“We see no evidence the drafters of the California Constitution intended to deprive the Legislature of a tool other state legislatures have long used to ensure they are truly speaking on behalf of their states in the federal constitutional amendment process,” Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote for the state’s high court.

The development paves the way for the state legislature to put this issue before voters statewide in 2016. “I certainly expect it to be on the ballot one way or another,” Derek Cressman, who was the campaign manager for the proposition before it was removed from the ballot, told the LA Times. Hundreds of thousands of Californians also have spoken in support of an amendment through local advisory referenda, Common Cause points out.

A similar advisory referendum is slated to appear on the ballot this November in Arkansas. And in Washington state, backers of yet another initiative aimed at overturning Citizens United submitted 330,000 signatures to the secretary of state at the end of December -- more than enough to qualify the measure for the 2016 ballot.

“Coast-to-coast, Americans are determined to break the hold of big money donors on our politics,” said Hobert Flynn, “from city hall and the county courthouse to the national capitol and the White House.”

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.) Photo: The Earl Warren Building in San Francisco -- Sanfranman59, licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

VOICES OF THE PEOPLE--A funny thing happened on the way to asking Angelenos to pay more taxes while watching the laws of physics, biology, and the City Charter:  they got desperate, felt cornered, and started to rebel. 

Certainly, the venerable efforts of Save Valley Village, and others like it, are being opposed by City Councilmembers who "understand" but disrespect their sentiments by continuously falling back on a "Downtown Group-Think" which justifies every possible excuse to overdevelop at the expense of the lives, environment, health and financial survival of honest, law-abiding City residents. 

Ditto for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, backed by the same grassroots types who want to have more mobility, economic opportunity, and environmental laws supported by the City Council, but instead have to confront and oppose a City Council, Mayor, and Planning Department which prefers to break the law, change the law, and thwart the lives and wills of their tax-paying constituents. 

And did you hear about the awful (gasp!) organization backing the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which merely requires a halt on overdevelopments (which, when they're brought before the courts and neighborhood councils, are routinely opposed and shut down) and an adherence to City Charter and its associated environmental laws and laws of democratic governance? 

It's that pesky, evil Aids Healthcare Foundation sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative! 

And that evil, dangerous United Neighborhoods For Los Angeles - UN4LA which is pushing for it!   

Heaven forbid that smart development should be ... smart. 

Heaven forbid creating affordable housing should actually do it ... and not overdevelop with boatloads of high-priced, market-value projects with an already insufficient water and infrastructure to support what now exists in our City. 

Heaven forbid that those neighborhoods who really want to help the homeless, create more mobility through mass transit and appropriate transportation/planning measures, and ensure a livable environment should be empowered to actually do all that. 

And Heaven forbid that City Hall should allow those of us working ever more to keep what we have, while paying more and more for taxes and utility rates while getting less and less in return for them, should be allowed to economically survive instead of City leaders focusing on the profits of well-connected developers and a few small-but-connected special interests. 

It's pretty certain that the "true believers" and "density zombies" at Curbed LA and the like, will continue to work with the Mayor to pat us all collectively on the head, give a few tsk-tsk's, and tell us that all this sentiment is understandable but misguided, and make everything worse...and that we're all just a bunch of NIMBY's

It's also pretty certain that those of us who fought (and paid for, and are agonizing over paying more for) to create mass transit and upgrade our infrastructure, and are now being told to swallow ridiculous transit zones of 1/2-mile from train stations, monstrous overdevelopments that destroy and negatively change neighborhoods, and to give up our cars and commute 5-20 or more miles each day on our bicycles and buses... 

...while City leaders and only the wealthy and connected access work through their own cars... 

...will agonize over the decision to pay more for necessary transportation, or say "NO!" even to good transportation measures and its funding just to make a statement to City Hall. 

Finally, the question of taking back City Hall (which was the intent of Mayor Riordan and the Neighborhood Council Initiative) with the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will also be on our minds if it gets enough signatures to make it on the November ballot. 

So we've got a "S.O.S." to save so much of what we hold dear, and to keep what we fought for while implementing appropriate and fair-minded change: 

1) Let's do what we can to ensure the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative gets on the November ballot 

2) Let's do what we can to ensure a "Measure R-2" for transportation funding on the November ballot, too. 

And let's see what a "S.O.S." can do as ordinary citizens scratch and claw their way to a City that truly represents the will of the citizenry.

 

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  Alpern@MarVista.org.   He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016-01-11

MY TURN-At the end of 2014, I wrote my “year-end” with a few disclaimers. I didn't write one for 2015 because I was literally unplugged -- on the high seas without internet connection! 

The first couple of days of withdrawal were painful, glancing at my digital appliances when nothing was there. Amazingly enough, by the third day it was only a minor inconvenience and for the rest of the fourteen days ... I really didn't care! I heartily recommend this "cold turkey" treatment to you all. It's amazing what one can do with the time not devoted to our digital addictions. 

I utilized my time well by riding a camel in Cabo San Lucas (an oxymoron if there ever was one, but have the picture to prove it,) went zip-lining in Costa Rica and, among other things, managed to read eight books. 

And, oh yes ... I pondered what I would write about for CityWatch. Now that I’m plugged in again, I have taken a look at what I wrote in 2014. I could have just re-run it here, but unfortunately, things in both the world and locally are worse. 

A macro look at the U.S. in 2014 showed the stock market, GNP, unemployment and healthcare coverage had accomplished great gains. We were better off than most of the other parts of the world. 

However, in 2015 we saw violence increase ten-fold -- finishing here in San Bernardino with a terrorist mass shooting. The stock market closed down 2% for the year...the worst loss since 2008. Unemployment did drop, but wages stagnated most of the year.  Interest rates were raised by .25% after almost a decade of no increases. Healthcare saw big jumps in pharmaceutical prices that forced premiums to rise; it’s still better than before the Affordable Care Act, but not as good as it could be.  

Los Angeles managed to cut its water consumption as dire predictions about El Nino starting in January came true. Our City Council talked a great game but accomplished very little. Crime increased significantly, although that could have been due to the fact that we received false statistics in prior years.  

The honeymoon with Mayor Garcetti is over and the actual living together has had some bumps. The Porter Ranch gas leak has uprooted and sickened thousands of families in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley and might not be fixed until March. And our other favorite utility to hate -- the DWP -- is focused on increasing rates, allegedly to rebuild our aging infrastructure. My CW colleague, Jack Humphreville, has detailed the DWP saga very well. Take a look back at his articles in CW. 

After five months of searching we still don't have a Superintendent of Education. The School Board assures us that we should have one by the end of the month. In the meantime, antagonism caused by the debate over public and charter schools continues to fester. 

At the end of last year, I also listed the baggage we were carrying into 2015. Let's see if any of that has gone from being “checked” to becoming a lighter carry on. 

Italics here are my 2015-2016 update: 

1)     Economic Inequity. The ramifications for this continued and growing gap between the top echelon and the rest of the working population could eventually destroy our way of life. Remember Marie Antoinette and her immortal “Let them eat cake?”  It is also a root cause for many of the other challenges we face. 

That hasn't changed to any great degree. Yes, minimum wage has gone up but one still can't live on a 40 hour a week minimum wage salary and feed a family. 

2)  The  Police Force in Minority Communities. Perception becomes a reality and the tension and resentment between the two in many communities must be altered.  There is blame on both sides. Where are the community leaders advocating for kids to stay in school, respect their teachers and each other and, probably most important, where is the parental influence? 

On the other side there is a huge gap between minority and white communities in both arrests and “stop and frisk.” That must change if we are to progress as a society. Are there bullies in the Police Force? Of course there are… as there are in all parts of our society. 

We saw even more of that this past year. Police-involved fatalities were too frequent. The City Council endorsed "body cameras" but Police Chief Beck decreed that in the case of police-involved incidents, the police officers would have access to the video BEFORE writing their reports. Also, the public would have to go through the courts in order to view the videos.  

Doesn't sound too transparent to me. 

3)  Education. I don’t know if the “Core” program is the answer, but with all of the smart people working in the educational sector, there have to be solutions. We as a society can’t afford to have an illiterate population. There are so many inspiring teachers involved in successful programs across the nation. Maybe using them to develop curriculum, instead of having administrators make the decisions, might be an answer. It couldn’t hurt! 

Higher education should be available to all and it shouldn’t be a strictly academic program. It means acquiring advanced training in those areas that the individual can master…whether it be plumbing or nuclear science. This helps grow our economy and makes life easier for all of us. 

"No child Left Behind" was allowed to fade away and new approaches are being discussed. It’s true that LA schools win academic decathlons, but there are still way too many dropouts as well as kids who can't read. 

4) World Conflicts. Personally, I don’t think the U.S. can solve the world’s problems. I also don’t think that we can remake the world in our own image. At the same time, we also CANNOT allow genocide to occur. So many people profess to have answers to all of the world’s conflicts, but I am not one of them! I do agree with some of the experts that what we are experiencing now is, sadly, the “new normal.” This is baggage that is not likely to be checked in my lifetime. 

It was a horribly violent year. We had the Paris Attacks, the immigration exodus, Saudi Arabia and Iran are now facing off, and in this first week of 2016, North Korea is boasting about its hydrogen bomb. If it can be made to fit on the end of a long range missile, it could hit the West Coast. 

Nowhere feels safe. For a week we were able to relax about a nuclear Iran when it agreed to some strong terms, but now that looks "iffy" even though they just got rid of 25,000 lbs. of uranium. 

We did restore relations with Cuba but Congress has not lifted the sanctions. 

5) Leadership. We as a nation do not encourage great leaders. By the time they are elected to leadership roles they have had to compromise on so many things. The combination of mediocrity and masses amounts of money is what wins elections. One may have a great message, but if there aren’t sufficient finances to get the message out…it does no good. Where will our future leaders come from? 

Reams have been written on this. We are the only country that starts an electoral campaign two years before the actual vote takes place. We and, unfortunately, the rest of the world have witnessed some of the most embarrassing and hateful rhetoric in modern history. Ironically, the only bright spot here is that we’ve seen evidence proving that it isn't the one who spends the most money who gets the most attention! 

My prediction is two-fold: This will either spur a huge turnout at the polls or, by the time November rolls around, a large percentage of the country will be so turned off they won't vote. 

Since “all politics is local,” last year, I listed the carryover baggage from 2014: 

City Pension growth

Earthquake Retrofitting

Water distribution and Conservation

Transportation Issues

Infrastructure Fixes

Uncompetitive Business Ordinances

Education Conflicts

Minority Community Police Conflicts

Apathetic Voters 

Add to that the homelessness problem and the plight of our Veterans and nothing has really changed. In many cases, it has gotten worse. 

Now the State is stepping in and this week we hear comments about the lack of a concise plan from Los Angeles. This I don't understand! The Mayor formed a crisis committee in June. We have some brilliant people in this City, who, if they were all locked in a room, could come up with some creative and practical ideas. Obviously our City government is not part of that group. 

I am sure you will let me know what else I should add to the list. 

Will we find solutions to all of this in 2016? Not a chance! We can only hope to make some progress, and I am more pessimistic about that than I was this time last year. 

Last year I said:  

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our Neighborhood Council System (NCs). I have been both an observer and an activist in this movement and have seen that its potential to help our City is still enormous. 

Neighborhood Councils face a real challenge going into the future. They are poised at a fork in the road…either rising to a higher, stronger position in the City or gradually dying out. The biggest weakness, in my opinion, is the lack of new leadership. There is no mechanism to encourage young people to participate. There are too many NCs in which the leadership rotates among the same group of people and for too many, it is a “power trip.” 

2016 is an election year for the NC's. Thirty-five out of the ninety-six have opted for online voting. It is a very good way to test the results and see if it would work for our citywide elections. 

There have been some positive changes at the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (EmpowerLA). They were able to increase staff. But, of course, without the thousands of volunteers, they would literally be out of business. 

On the other hand, I have a feeling that there are several City Councilmembers who are doing everything they can to undermine the influence of the Neighborhood Council system. They don't want their actions to be scrutinized by their constituents. However, they are up against a passionate and better organized group. Some of them will suffer the errors of their ways come the next election. 

I do want to express my appreciation to all of you who have allowed me to vent my frustrations and to those who have shared with me the positive things that everyday people do for their neighbors. I hope I have stirred the pot a little by discussing issues that affect all of us living in this imperfect but wonderful City. 

And, as always, my gratitude to CW Editor Ken Draper for his years of dedication to the betterment of Los Angeles, his vision and his relentless search for multiple opinions on the news. 

As always comments welcome.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

EASTSIDER-Over the holidays, I started reminiscing about “back in the day,” something I used to hate in my 20’s when “old people” did it. However… 

I was thinking of a black union leader in LA named Walter Backstrom. He headed up the LA City Sanitation Workers Union for SEIU back in the day, and for some reason, he took a young union hothead under his wing. At the time, I was around twenty-six, working in Watts as a Social Worker and with the Social Workers Union – so proud of my UC Berkeley credentials. 

Both Sam Yorty and Tom Bradley were running for Mayor of the City of Los Angeles at the time. After we tired of passing endless resolutions to get out of the Vietnam War, we backed Tom Bradley. After all, he was black and everyone seemed to think he was cool. 

Bradley was cool, even though he was a high ranking police officer with tenuous actual ties to South Central LA. He was not universally perceived by the community as a nice guy. And Walter and Local 347 were backing Sam Yorty. 

Anyhow, we got to talking when I discovered some Yorty backers slapping some pretty nasty bumper stickers on cars in Watts, making it look like Bradley was a black radical.  Morally outraged, I asked Walter “how can this be?” I asked him, “how can you back a racist like Yorty?” I’ll always remember his reply. “Son,” he said, “Tom Bradley doesn’t need any more black support, but Sam Yorty does. I get paid to help my members.” 

Backstrom represented the trash collection workers. They had hard jobs and bad working conditions. They needed all the help they could get, especially from City Hall. 

Yorty went on to win, and I couldn’t help but notice that Local 347 got great contracts -- courtesy of Mayor Sam and wonderful access to City Hall. Walter Backstrom later went on to work for State Senator Bill Green and for Councilman Robert Farrell. We remained friends over the years. Local 347 always got good contracts for trash workers during those times. It was a lesson to me in the “good” RealPolitik

My takeaway is this:  Back then, the politicians were probably no cleaner than they are today, but the system had a network of relationships, built over time, that worked. No one wanted to do anything spectacularly stupid that would jeopardize those relationships -- with a few notable exceptions. It was a time for “grown-ups,” in the sense that everyone was clear about their stake in the game; your handshake really was your bond and most of the real political business got done over cocktails and food or in private meetings. 

In Sacramento, where I did some occasional lobbying work for my union, special interests maintained individual full-time hired lobbyists. The big unions ran tabs at all the bars in town and the eateries like Frank Fats, David’s Brass Rail, and Posey’s. They kept hotel tabs at places like The Senator. While I was there, I never saw a politician pick up a tab or a lobbyist embarrass a politician. Believe me, in the evenings, in the joints with large tables that included the political class and us hangers on, it was the same deal:  your word was your bond. And you didn’t talk or you never came back. 

In those heady, and sometimes corrupt, days in the City and the State, elected officials were basically in for life -- unless they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar or with a seriously underage companion in public.  

There were two plus sides to this system. First, this was a time of direct relationships between the special interests -- sometimes brokered through lobbyists, but often by direct one-on-one meetings. Those relationships lasted over decades. They imposed a degree of personal civility … boundaries that are nonexistent today. 

The other plus side was that everybody had a stake in the game. The politicians tended to gravitate into areas of expertise during their long political careers. Water issues, zoning, taxes, mental health -- you name it -- they found a niche of expertise; they and their staffs became experts.  And that expertise crossed party lines with regularity. Heck, they even read their bills! 

There were characters like Phil Burton and George Moscone and Willie Brown. There were great Republicans like George Milias and Bob Beverly. And they all worked together most of the time. And everyone in the game knew where the practical limits were. 

This worked for the players, even if the public was largely lost in space. The same held true for LA City Hall and the County of Los Angeles, although the County was seriously conservative and secretive compared to the rest of the jurisdictions I dealt with on a continuous basis. 

Then, after a lot of scandals, along came term limits. The thinking was that you couldn’t get an elected official out of office without a crowbar and this was close to true!  As a result, we got a new breed of folks who have no expertise in anything except getting elected to office and making a career out of moving up the rungs of the political ladder. Typically, this occurred at more expense and more to the detriment of the public than under the old system. Talk about unintended consequences!  And today, you still can’t get them out with a crowbar. 

These days, elected officials don’t even read most of the bills they author; votes are pretty much automatic, given the Democratic super majorities. Lost in this process is any pretense of subject matter expertise by these elected officials. It’s all about instant gratification. 

The only relationships that exist are the transitory cash ones between elected officials and the lobbyists, developers, and, yes, the unions who have ponied up the money to keep them in the game.  A handshake is good for a few weeks -- if you’re lucky -- and it’s all about what you are going to do for the incumbent now … now being defined as how what you want fits into their next office … public policy be damned. 

Just look at the LA City Council and the career paths of the majority of these elected officials. Public property, which is theoretically owned by the people of the City of Los Angeles and is held in trust by these public servants, is treated as markers in a monopoly game, while they bounce from job to job. 

My point is not to glamorize the old system or to bring back the good old days of a part-time California Legislature – even though you at least knew who bought who back then. 

I want to encourage some serious thought about how we govern, and how to go about modifying our existing system so that there is some incentive for elected officials to actually know something about the issues they casually shop. 

Land use issues are very complicated if you want to do more than simply sell your vote. Law enforcement issues are likewise very complicated. The second you drill down into the details and set up ‘filtering’ Commissions, it doesn’t seem to do a lot for either the communities we live in or the police themselves. 

The same is true of a host of issues. For instance, water management at the State level. This requires both knowledgeable elected officials who have subject matter expertise, either their own or that of their paid staffs. “Dialing for dollars,” as evidenced in our current system, is not what we need or want. 

So maybe, just maybe, we should take another look at term limits … and their implications.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

NEW GEOGRAPHY--In presidential election years, it is natural to see our political leaders also as the brokers of our economic salvation. Some, such as columnist Harold Meyerson, long have embraced politics as a primary lever of upward mobility for minorities. He has positively contrasted the rise of Latino politicians in California, and particularly Los Angeles, with the relative dearth of top Latino office-holders in heavily Hispanic Texas. In Los Angeles, he notes, political activism represents the “biggest game in town” while, in Houston, he laments, politics takes second place to business interests and economic growth.

In examining the economic and social mobility of ethnic groups across the country, however, the politics-first strategy has shown limited effectiveness. Latinos, for example, have dramatically increased their elected representatives nationally since the 1990s, particularly in California. But both Latinos and African Americans continue to move to, and appear to do better in, the more free-market, politically conservative states, largely in the South.

Two Paths to Success

Throughout American history, immigrants and minorities have had two primary pathways to success. One, by using the political system, seeks to redirect resources to a particular group and also to protect it from majoritarian discrimination, something particularly necessary in the case of the formerly enslaved African Americans.

The other approach, generally less well-covered, has defined social uplift through such things as education, hard work and familial values. This path was embraced by early African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey. Today, the most successful ethnic groups – Koreans, Middle Easterners, Jews, Greeks and Russians – demonstrate the validity of this method through high levels of both entrepreneurial and educational achievement.

How today’s racial minorities achieve upward mobility has never been more important. Today, Latinos, together with African Americans and Asians, constitute 43 percent of the combined population in the country’s 52 largest metropolitan areas, up from 35 percent in 2000. By 2050, ethnic minorities are expected to constitute close to a majority of the country’s population. As minorities become majorities, too much reliance on racial redress and wealth redistribution will put enormous stress on the economic system and social order.

Temptations of Politics

Conditions vary, and, for some groups, particularly the larger ones, temptation remains to turn growing numbers into political power. African Americans have employed their numbers and political solidarity to achieve considerable electoral success, particularly at the municipal level. The election of Barack Obama as president stands as the supreme achievement of the African American political community.

But has triumph at the top of the political pyramid translated into true gains at the grass-roots level? From 2007-13, African Americans have experienced a 9 percent drop in incomes, far worse than the 6 percent decline for the rest of the population. In 2013, African American unemployment remained twice that of whites, and, according to the Urban League, the black middle class has conceded many of the gains made over the past 30 years.Concentrated urban poverty – on the decline in the booming 1990s – now appears to be growing.

This contradicts the idea that politically achieved generous welfare and subsidy regimeshold the key to ethnic uplift. African Americans, in fact, often do worse in many of the cities – Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago – that have been exemplars of black political power and redistributionist politics.

Conditions are not much better in the generally more prosperous coastal glamour towns, where progressive racial politics remain sacrosanct.Black households in New York have incomes of roughly $43,000, about the same as much as much less-costly Atlanta, Raleigh, N.C., and major Texas cities.

One possible explanation lies in economic transitions – accelerated by tough regulations – that have seen the demise of higher-paying blue-collar jobs that provided opportunities in the past. The rapid shift to an economy centered around high-end business services and tech enterprises has left many behind. Silicon Valley’s African Americans and Hispanics make up roughly one-third of the population but are barely 5 percent of employees in top Silicon Valley firms.

The biggest beneficiaries of political success has not been working families but members of President Obama’s heavily African American inner circle, as well as politically adept cliques at the state and local level. Bourgeois African Americans in politics, the arts and media enjoy more influence than ever at the top, but the grass-roots level confronts street level crime, rising levels of black dissatisfaction and white resentment.

Where are things better?

In a recent study for the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (www.opportunityurbanism.org), demographer Wendell Cox and I tried to identify the U.S. locales with the best economic conditions for African Americans and other racial minorities. The surprising answer: the old Confederacy. In ranking our top 15 areas for African Americans – based on incomes, homeownership, migration patterns and entrepreneurial activity – 13 were in the South, while the others, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are in historic border areas.

In the Great Migration, from 1910-70, 6 million African Americans moved from the South to the North, notably to Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Detroit, as well as to California. Now the migration pattern has changed dramatically. From 2000-13, the African American populations of Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Orlando, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Raleigh, N.C., Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., and San Antonio grew by close to or above 40 percent, or higher, versus an average of 27 percent for the 52 metropolitan areas.

In contrast, the African American population actually dropped in five critically important large metros that once were beacons for black progress: San Francisco-Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit.

Latinos at a crossroad

Like African Americans, Latinos also are moving to places with lower costs and greater opportunities. For Latinos, now the nation’s largest ethnic minority, nine of the top 13 places are cities wholly or partially within the old Confederacy. The majority of newcomers to the South, notes a recent Pew study, are classic first-wave immigrants: young, 57 percent foreign born and not well-educated. “You go where the opportunities are,” explains Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.

The contrast is revealing between the two leading Latino megastates: hyperprogressive California and right-leaning Texas. The Lone Star state’s Latino population continues to grow rapidly, expanding since 2000 by 68 percent in Houston, 70 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth and 83 percent in Austin. In contrast, Los Angeles saw a relatively meager 15 percent Latino expansion.

The one place in California that has seen rapid Latino growth combined with the best economic performance is the most Texas-like region in the state: Riverside-San Bernardino, where the Latino population has expanded by 74 percent since 2000.

These migration figures reflect diverging realities. Start with a Latino poverty rate that, adjusted for cost of living, reaches more than 33 percent in California versus 22.7 percent in Texas. Using a host of key social indicators – marriage rate, church attendance and welfare dependency – Latinos also seem to do much better in the Lone Star State than here.

Surprisingly, the educational performance gap between Latino students and whites is much larger in California than in the nation, while significantly lower in Texas, which spends considerably less per pupil.

But perhaps the greatest distinction is found in housing. In cities like Houston, a majority of Latinos and some 40 percent of African Americans own their homes. Those rates are, on average, 25 percent to 30 percent lower in Los Angeles, as well as in deep-blue cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston.

Homeownership, like education, long has been critical to upward mobility. As a recent report by the liberal think tank Demos indicates, much of the “ethnic wealth gap” – white households with wealth more than 10 times their Latino or African American counterparts – comes from differing home ownership rates.

Lesson for minorities?

It may be tempting for minorities in California and other blue regions to continue demanding their “rights” and investing their hopes in transfer payments, housing subsidies, energy credits and affirmative action to improve their day-to-day lives. But this reliance likely won’t turn them into a new upwardly mobile middle class. To rise up, minorities need to demand economic and housing policies that don’t simply alleviate poverty but put more people on the road to overcoming it.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

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