Posted by David A. Lehrer
Los Angeles is a wonderful city. As a native I have a love for the climate, the landscape, the diversity of peoples—-all of which make for a unique and dynamic and interesting place to live and raise a family.
What doesn’t seem so dynamic is the profound dysfunction that has marked our political environment over the past few years. This blog has written about the pension issues that plague LA and so many other jurisdictions, the mishandling of the Autry National Center, and several other matters that have displayed the vacuum in leadership that seems to be especially marked these days.
But of all those issues, none strikes as resonant a chord with me as a story that appears in this week’s LA Weekly about the dismantling of the Los Angeles Public Library. Having served on the Library’s Board of Commissioners and as its president over a decade ago, it is especially painful to watch as budget cuts destroy what is probably the best run institution in local government.
Clearly, the city, as virtually every other level of government, faces a financial crisis; cuts in budgets are inevitable and hard to criticize. Libraries in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Detroit faced budget cuts too—-but as the Weekly points out, “political leaders who control the purse strings for the biggest cities fought and saved their libraries from severe harm.” Not so in LA. The Weekly argues that “Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa executed an unprecedented, and punishing, raid on the libraries.” The LA City Council unlike New York’s put up no fight in the face of the mayor’s budget cutting knife.
Los Angeles has the ignominious distinction of joining Detroit asthe only big city to close down its entire library system two days a week
. And, according to the Weekly, we are the only major city to close its central library two days a week.
One might make an argument that tough times call for tough actions, and libraries shouldn’t be exempt from the pain that everyone else is undergoing. But….when the cuts make no sense and are counter-productive in the face of other city expenditures, it makes one wonder what’s going on.
Where the Weekly’s analysis piercingly strikes home is comparing the amounts cut from the library (restoring all 64 branch libraries on Mondays and the nine regional branches and Central on Sundays and Mondays would cost $10 million) against the amounts spent on questionable “gang-reduction” programs that receive millions.
As City Controller Wendy Greuel pointed out, no one knows if the anti-gang program (Gang Reduction and Youth Development) works and yet it received $18.5 million from the City Council. An analysis cited by the Weekly concluded that the “the mayor and City Council’s confidence in the GRYD’s central programs isn’t grounded in quantifiable facts.”
I’m reminded of a television program my partner, Joe Hicks, and I hosted for several years on KCET. In one program we had an anti-gang maven and a Los Angeles Times’ reporter, David Zahniser, who had reported on anti-gang programs. Zahniser had documented the bias in favor of these programs and the hope that funders often harbor that they will deliver redemption if only enough money were spent on them. In one instance he recounted an anti-gang program that in its annual report to the City Council
….filled out all the forms and, when they finished the assessment, they concluded that that program had diverted exactly two people from gangs.
The reaction that the Council had to that assessment was, “Oh, my gosh, this program has not been getting the resources they need to do the paperwork right.” What happened was that that program got more money, not less. They didn’t say zero out the money for the program with the bad numbers. They actually said, you know, they’re having trouble with the administrative side, and they actually went the other direction.
The data from GRYD’s 2009 report the Weekly cites is the heart of the article. Apparently, last year the program enrolled 2,702 at risk 10-15 year olds and 825 older kids. According to the Weekly, that comes to $5,245 for each at risk kid.
The Los Angeles public libraries serve approximately 15,000 young people daily
; many of whom come in after school to a safe and positive environment because their parents aren’t home or their neighborhood isn’t safe and they have homework to do.
You can do the math, but that comes out to about 65 cents per kid contrasted with the GRYD’s $5,200+ per youth.
Putting aside romantic notions of what a library should be and the disturbing notion that the repository of our civilization’s ideas is being short-changed, in a plain, pragmatic dollars and cents reckoning closing down libraries and telling 15,000 kids that they better find someplace else to go, makes no sense. Take two thirds of the GRYD kids and send them to the library, they may learn something and we’d save a lot of kids, money and libraries.
12.12.13 at 3:52 pm | When two heroic Prisoners of Conscience met
11.5.13 at 2:23 pm | America’s energy revolution has the potential. . .
11.4.13 at 11:26 am | Visit the Getty Villa to see the Cyrus. . .
10.24.13 at 2:01 pm | The Los Angeles City Council, in the wake of. . .
8.30.13 at 9:35 am | Intolerance, no matter its motivation, is. . .
8.28.13 at 10:54 am | America is not a racial Nirvana. However, a few. . .
September 1, 2010 | 4:13 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
In writing yesterday’s blog about Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and his inflammatory comments urging a plague on Palestinians and their leaders, I recalled an op/ed in the Wall St. Journal by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. that I return to from time to time (“The Worst Corruption”). It dates from November 22, 1995, in the days following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Schlesinger’s prescient analysis is as apt today in the light of increased religious and secular fanaticism as it was fifteen years ago.
Herewith a segment of Schelsinger’s wonderful piece:
Most of the killing taking place around the world in recent years has been caused by religious conflict, whether in Yugoslavia or Ireland, India or Lebanon, Sri Lanka or Tibet or the Philippines. The killers all believe they are doing the Lord’s work.
Yigal Amir has not yet explained how God communicated the order to kill Mr. Rabin. But according to a recent study conducted by the George H. Gallup International Institute and reported in the current issue of The Public Perspective, more than a third of American adults claim that God speaks to them directly. Am I alone in finding this a scary statistic? What in the world do they mean? How does God talk to them? Do they hear voices, like Joan of Arc? And what does God say to them?
Nathaniel Hawthorne showed long ago in “The Blithedale Romance” where delusions of this sort too often lead. Such people, Hawthorne wrote, “have an idol, to which they consecrate themselves high-priest, and deem it holy work to offer sacrifices of whatever is most precious; and never once seem to suspect—so cunning has the Devil been with them—that this false deity, in whose iron features, immitigable to all the rest of mankind, they see only benignity and love, is but a spectrum of the very priest himself, projected upon the surrounding darkness.” Hawthorne called it the Unpardonable Sin—the sin of self-pride, of confusing oneself with the Almighty.
Fundamentalism in one form or another has been the scourge of the 20th century. Fundamentalists are absolutists—people who believe they are appointed carriers of a sacred gospel and feel so sure they are right that they have no compunction about killing heretics or doing anything else to advance their cause. Secular fundamentalists see themselves as executing the will of History; religious fundamentalists see themselves as executing the will of God.
The zealots who believed they were commissioned by History shadowed the middle half of the century. But the collapse of the totalitarian faiths—fascism perishing with a bang, communism with a whimper—has somewhat reduced the threat from secular fundamentalism. What has arisen to take its place is religious fundamentalism, long repressed by the Cold War, now bursting forth in all righteous and murderous rage. The fanatic, said Mr. Dooley, “does what he think th’ Lord wud do if He only knew th’ facts in th’ case.”
Beware, Hawthorne warned, of those who thus surrender themselves to a single overruling purpose. “
They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience. They will keep no friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will smite and slay you, and trample your dead corpse under foot, all the more readily, if you take the first step with them and cannot take the second, and the third, and every other step of their terribly strait path.
There is awful arrogance in claiming access to the divine purpose. We must never forget, wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, the pre-eminent American theologian of the century, “the depth of evil to which individuals and communities may sink, particularly when they try to play the role of God to history.”
As the most religiously sensitive of our presidents, Abraham Lincoln, put it in his great Second Inaugural, “The Almighty has His own purposes.” When this thought offended true believers who were sure they knew what God intended, Lincoln observed,
“Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them.
” And he added that this was “a truth which I thought needed to be told” because to deny it is “to deny that there is a God governing the world.”
“Religion,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “is so frequently a source of confusion in political life, and so frequently dangerous to democracy, precisely because it introduces absolutes into the realm of relative values.”
Religion’s proper role is to induce, not a sense of infallibility, but a sense of limitation; not complacency, but contrition and repentance
It is surely time for our religious leaders to invoke true religion against those who degrade religion by using it to promote their own agendas and to inflate their own egos. Unrebuked and unchecked, fundamentalists of all faiths will continue to believe that they are serving God by mayhem and murder.