Posted by David A. Lehrer
Last week, in the wake of the tragic murders at Ft. Hood, I heard news reports of a local press conference involving Salaam al Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, and the acting chief of the LAPD, Michael Downing. The thrust of the gathering was to decry the senseless violence at Ft. Hood and to “reassure” Muslim Angelenos that police cars had been deployed to Muslim institutions around the county and city to guard against a possible anti-Muslim backlash for the Texas mayhem and murder.
There was something strangely troubling about the press conference and the subsequent local coverage of the Ft. Hood tragedy.
One listened to the spokespeople and could almost believe that the Muslim community had been victimized—-not dozens of innocent soldiers at Ft. Hood—- and that there was an inchoate blood lust on the part of the American public to blame the Muslim community for the terror perpetrated by Nidal Malik Hasan.
References were made to “threatening calls and e-mails” that were directed at MPAC and then to the oft-recycled, and mostly apocryphal, stories of hate directed at the Muslim community after the murder of three thousand innocent Americans on 9/11. In fact, there was precious little hate evidenced after 9/11 and there was no effort to “take it out on the Muslim community” after Ft. Hood.
The media went out of its way (irrationally in most instances) to avoid drawing the fairly obvious conclusion of what animated Nidal Malik Hasan’s murderous rampage (see our blog of November 10).
A notable exception was yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, which bravely editorialized about balancing security demands with religious tolerance in the military:
But it would be equally tragic if the armed services allowed an insistence on religious tolerance to stand in the way of detecting and rooting out extremism in the ranks. It’s essential to avoid profiling people on the basis of their religion, but that doesn’t require us to deny the existence in this country, as elsewhere, of a dangerous and anti-American ideology that identifies itself with Islam and seeks to recruit believing Muslims.
What most of the media, and most clearly our local officials, did was to unfairly short-change the American public. We were treated as if we were vengeful bigots who generalize from an individual to the group from which he/she comes without giving it a second thought. This viewpoint holds that unless we are admonished not to give in to our base instincts, all hell will break loose.
The fact is that when Seung-Hi Cho, a young man of Korean origin, massacred dozens of students at Virginia Tech in 2007, Newsweek headlined, “Korean Americans Brace for Backlash”, Newsday’s front page blared, “Koreans Fear a Backlash.”
It didn’t happen then and won’t happen now; Americans have actually absorbed many of the civil rights lessons of the past fifty years.
After this past week and the message that was sent both overtly and subtly, the recent Gallup poll which found that, despite a brief and notable bump after Obama won election last year, optimism (or lack thereof) about U.S. race relations is back to its pre-2008 election levels makes sense.
While virtually every poll of actual racial attitudes shows unprecedented levels of understanding, people are, nevertheless, convinced that things aren’t good, in no small measure because the media and much of our chattering classes refuse to recognize the transformation of America. At almost every opportunity they warn of our potential misdeeds (as in this case), they assume that we are animated by our most base motives (court mandated gerrymandering assumes we vote primarily on parochial ethnic/racial grounds), they invoke the specter of hate crimes and bigotry as if they were omnipresent phenomena, and they ignore the good news in the amelioration of racial and ethnic relations because it alters the accepted narrative of victimhood and history.
This persistence in viewing us as closet bigots waiting for the opportunity to act out our intolerance—-overtly and covertly expressed—-is itself altering our communities, but in the wrong direction.
5.16.13 at 3:52 pm | An issue that affects families every day, alters. . .
5.8.13 at 2:45 pm | Most Americans have learned to resist. . .
4.23.13 at 2:52 pm | We should recognize and praise the tolerance that. . .
4.12.13 at 3:16 pm | Interesting speakers across a wide array of. . .
4.10.13 at 11:15 am | Urging that gender criteria should be. . .
3.12.13 at 1:21 pm | By many measures, teenagers today are faring. . .
5.8.13 at 2:45 pm | Most Americans have learned to resist. . . (134)
5.16.13 at 3:52 pm | An issue that affects families every day, alters. . . (56)
7.29.09 at 7:24 pm | Young black men commit murder at ten times the. . . (17)
November 10, 2009 | 7:33 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
I just watched President Obama’s talk to an audience assembled at Fort Hood to honor the memory of thirteen service members killed by army Major Nidal Malik Hasan.
Given the legal complexities yet to play out at Hasan’s upcoming trial, the president probably struck the proper tone. However, he avoided the implications of failed intelligence by responsible agencies and why, given the shooter’s history and past terrorist sympathy, no one connected the dots.
Both the FBI and military intelligence were aware that the major was communicating on a frequent basis with a rabidly-militant Muslim cleric in Yemen and yet choose to downplay the connections.
But why? Has “diversity” and “sensitivity” toward Muslims become something that has trumped common sense – not only in the nation’s corporate sector, the mainstream media, university campuses and government, but now within the military as well?
Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey, made the rounds of this past Sunday morning new shows. He sounded more like a corporate public relations flack, trying to manage a crisis, than a military man searching for the truth. Apparently operating from talking points, the General stressed the “diverse” nature of the army and spoke about the “sensitivities” involved – cautioning against “speculation.”
Political correctness was the order of the day, and not just from the army spokesman, but from mainstream media figures as well; they almost all seemed intent on making us believe Hasan was as much the victim as those he shot.
The ABC’s Diane Sawyer said on air that she wished Nidal Malik Hasan was named “smith.” And why would she wish this?
Other than Muslims having attained the stature of favored “victims” in the ideological pantheon of folks like Sawyer, her unstated reason may be the often-trotted out reference to the possibility of a backlash against the nation’s Muslims. This is the claim du jour of those representing Muslim organizations … and afforded deference by willing accomplices within the mainstream media.
But this claim is as false as it is slanderous. The view that America is a nation of rabid Islam-hating bigots, with a hair-trigger for violence, is simply fiction. Even after the 9/11 attacks that left 3000 Americans dead at the hands of Islamic killers, with the exception of a handful of incidents nationally, there was no significant “backlash” against American Muslims. Americans have the ability to target their anger at those responsible for heinous acts, and not broader populations of innocent people.
Demonstrating the extent of the politically-correct approach in the face of what was clearly an act of Muslim extremist violence, even the celebrity television psychologist, Dr. Phil, presented the Fort Hood killer as a victim. The pop television psychologist argued that “stress” may have been the cause, along with the pressure Hasan “endured” while counseling returning service personnel. However, what appeared to send Dr. Phil over the top was a guest who happened to mention Major Hasan’s religion. Dr. Phil reacted to this revelation as if the guest had used the N-word.
But why is there reluctance to identify Major Hasan’s murder spree as the act of a Muslin fanatic? Here is a life-long Muslim who had ongoing links to Anwar al Awalaki, a well-known international terrorist figure, was someone who once gave a lecture in which he stated that infidels should be beheaded and have oil poured down their throats, once attended the same San Diego mosque as two of the 9/11 hijackers, hands out copies of the Koran shortly before the shooting, and yells “Allahu Akbar” while mowing down his victims.
Yet, the FBI has offered this mealy-mouthed assessment. “The investigation to date has not identified a motive, and a number of possibilities remain under consideration…”
So, according to this pronouncement, Nidal Malik Hasan’s religion had nothing to do with his actions. If this is true, then religion also played no role in the actions of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists, and Osama bin Laden’s devout religious beliefs are coincidental to his declared war against America and the West.
It’s time to push aside this kind of political correctness. Misplaced “sensitivity” will prove increasingly dangerous. Don’t agree? – just ask the dozens of surviving victims of Major Hasan’s deadly attack.
November 4, 2009 | 8:20 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Now that the media frenzy relating to yesterday’s elections has run its course, it’s time to start focusing on more pressing issues than what the election of the new governor of Virginia really means for America.
An impending decision by the Obama administration—-what to do in Afghanistan—is one of the issues that ought to occupy our and the media’s attention. Unfortunately, much that is written and said about Afghanistan and America’s role there is superficial and comes from “mavens” with little expertise in either the region, security issues, or the Islamic world. The sound bites of ninety seconds that the news offers are often short on insight.
If you’d like to learn more from exceptionally well-informed experts in order to come to your own conclusion as to what we should be doing in Afghanistan, come to our Critical Issues Seminar next Wednesday, November 11 at the Autry National Center in Griffith Park (4700 Western Heritage Way—- at the junction of the 5 and 134 freeways in Griffith Park). The program begins at 7:00PM.
In a joint program with NPR station KPCC, Community Advocates is presenting a panel discussion entitled Afghanistan—-Which Way Forward?
Larry Mantle, host of KPCC’s Airtalk, will moderate. Congressman Adam Schiff, a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and of the Committee on Foreign Operations, will join Dr. Kalev I. Sepp, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Dr. Reza Aslan, author of No God But God (a New York Times bestseller) and the upcoming Words Without Borders:Writings From the Middle East, to discuss where we should be going.
There is no admission fee for what promises to be a provocative and illuminating program that will be broadcast locally and nationally.
October 30, 2009 | 9:32 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Thirty years in the civil rights field can make one jaded. You meet folks who purport to care about humanity, who are lionized for their virtues but turn out to be, at least on a personal level, less than exemplary human beings. They may talk the talk, but disappointingly, too often don’t walk the walk.
It is particularly striking then when you meet an individual who not only talks and walks the walk but does so with honesty, integrity, deep commitment and offers meaningful insights to boot.
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending several days with Andrzej Folwarczny, founder and president of the Poland-based Forum for Dialogue Among Nations; a group which he founded in 1998. The purpose of the non-governmental group is to promote conversations between Poles and Jews in order to foster understanding and to help eradicate anti-Semitism.
I first met Andrzej two years ago when he visited Los Angeles to promote the missions that his group organizes for American Jews to spend a week in Poland. The trips explore the complex, nuanced and 800 year old relationship between Poles and Jews. He convinced me and several others, including Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, that the trip would be worthwhile.
We went on the trip in November, 2007.
Admittedly, I was ambivalent, if not skeptical, about how seriously to take this effort. The issue had always seemed rather clear to me, Poland, the site of all the Nazis’ extermination camps, was the home to millions of “willing collaborators” who facilitated (with some glee) the Germans’ Final Solution. I had seen Claude Lanzmann’s epic Shoah (and even arranged for him to be honored by ADL in Los Angeles in 1986) with its unforgettable images of Poles who lived near Auschwitz half smiling as they described the cattle cars full of people that passed their farms day in and day out during the Holocaust.
Despite my misgivings, the trip was, literally, life changing. Andrzej’s honesty and commitment were and are inspiring. From Krakow to Lodz to Warsaw, Andrzej and his Forum for Dialogue demonstrated the complexity of dealing with different narratives of history and how the commonly held perception of Polish attitudes towards Jews is often unfair, simplistic and a-historical.
There was and is no shortage of anti-Semites in Poland, but to ascribe to all the Polish people that most enduring of diseases is unfair. Especially when the authors of the Final Solution, Germans, are often given a free pass.
Andrzej has recounted the reasons why he does what he does:
After the collapse of Communism in Poland in 1989, Andrzej became involved in politics. He soon noticed that the first non-Communist political campaigns were marked by strong anti-Semitism: One party would accuse the other’s candidate of secretly being Jewish, while the accused party would trace their candidate’s roots to prove that he was not. The fact that accusations of being Jewish were being used in a derogatory way bothered Andrzej. “Something is wrong,” he remembers feeling, “when people are thinking in anti-Semitic patterns.”
He next recounts an incident during a trip to Israel with a group of Polish students. Their group happened to be on the same flight as a German group. At one point, the Israeli flight sponsor embraced the German guide. “He then turned to me,” recounts Andrzej, “and I could see that he had a problem shaking my hand.” He initially believed that the two must have known each other previously, until another guide told him: “You must forgive this man, but he remembers the Holocaust.”
Andrzej had trouble understanding this reasoning, but further experiences on the trip only confirmed that initial incident. Israeli teenagers, he says, showed markedly more respect towards the German group than to the Poles. But what upset him most was overhearing a guide in Yad Vashem explain to German students that the reason Nazis had organized their camps in Poland was because of traditional Polish anti-Semitism. “That was very frustrating for me and the entire Polish group,” states Andrzej.
After experiencing anti-Semitism in Poland and anti-Polonism in Israel, he went through a third experience that cemented his dedication to Polish-Jewish dialogue. This time, however, he saw opportunities and reasons for hope. In 1997, Andrzej was elected to the Polish Parliament (he served through 2001). On his first official visit to Israel, he asked to arrange a meeting for groups dealing with Polish-Jewish dialogue. He was told that there were none.
The Polish Embassy instead arranged a meeting with 10 Holocaust survivors. “I told them that I was there to promote Polish-Jewish dialogue,” says Andrzej, “but they had nothing positive to say about Poland,” recalling only firsthand stories from family or friends who had returned from concentration camps to find strangers living in their former homes.
After an hour, Andrzej felt that there was “no chance for reconciliation… I couldn’t understand why there was such a gap between how this group and Polish [non-Jewish] Holocaust survivors remember their history.”
Andrzej persisted. After four hours of discussion and dialogue, the survivors “had tears in their eyes,” asking Andrzej what Krakow, Lodz, Warsaw were like now. “I saw,” he says, “that they hate Poland, and on the other hand—they love it. I thought that, because of their age, the time of working with these people as ambassadors of Polish-Jewish reconciliation was limited.”
It was at that moment that he decided to devote himself to Polish-Jewish dialogue. “And that’s why I’m here today,” he smiles. (Journal of Polish American Affairs)
There are countless missions to Poland—-many involving young American Jews. More often than not, the trips go to Auschwitz and Krakow and the kids end up with the impression that Poland was strictly a cemetery for Jews. There is rarely even a few minutes spent discussing the fact that for 0ver 800 years Jews and Poles shared the same land and, for much of that time, Poland was the center of the Jewish world.
The relationship of Jews and Poles is far more complex, nuanced and important (Poland is among the most supportive countries of Israel in all of Europe). Andrzej not only focuses on Jewish attitudes towards Poland, he also has over 200 Polish schools learning about their neighbors who aren’t there. The Forum’s curriculum and projects are slowly impacting the attitudes of young Poles.
I accompanied Andrzej on several of his visits with local Jewish leaders last week. It was inspiring to witness the impact he had on rabbis, community leaders and hosts of others as his genuineness and commitment and serious good works became apparent.
It’s worth checking out the Forum’s website and reading the Forum’s book, Difficult Questions in Polish Jewish Dialogue.
Andrzej will be back next March; I’ll blog about his itinerary as we get closer.
October 29, 2009 | 6:49 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Today is one of those days where events coincide to remind us of where we are in America and where our society is.
I woke up this morning to the troubling news that the Adat Yeshurun synagogue in North Hollywood was attacked by a gunman who wounded two members of the temple on their way to morning services.
Arriving at work, after listening to repeated radio news reports that no one yet knew anything about the motivations of the gunman and that the two victims were lightly wounded, I read the just released ADL study of anti-Semitism in America (“anti-Semitic propensities are at a historic low since 1964, matching the previous all time low in 1998”).
I then watched the press conference outside Adat Yeshurun where a who’s who of LA leadership gathered to condemn the morning’s shooting and alert the community. The mayor made clear that the facts were unclear and whether or not a hate crime had occurred was yet to be determined.
What struck me as odd was that the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abe Cooper—who made a bow in the direction of the uncertainty of the situation—couldn’t resist warning about the danger of terror in economically hard times. Similarly, a spokesman for the ADL (prior to the press conference) warned that Jews and Jewish institutions should be alert to the dangers that the shooting presented.
It never hurts to be alert, but it is striking that the major figures in LA politics and Jewish community leadership were explicitly and implicitly warning about the implications of a crime about which they knew very little—- including the key unknown of what animated the gunman to act.
After working in the Jewish community for nearly thirty years, I am absolutely convinced that this is one community that does not need to be urged to be “on alert” or to be “concerned about potential threats”—-in our post-Holocaust times the risk of ignoring even hints of danger is one lesson that has been learned and learned well (see Rob Eshman’s opinion piece of this week).
If there is any message that should have been conveyed to the Jewish community, it is that until more information is known, there is no need for concern or fear or expectation of other criminal acts. That message should have been reinforced by noting that anti-Semitism in America is at historic lows and, barring evidence to the contrary, the assumption should be that this morning’s shooting is an anomaly—-end stop.
In fact, we should take this opportunity to recount our blessings; we are a fortunate people in a blessed country.
October 23, 2009 | 7:37 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
The first nine months of the Obama administration have been intriguing; a model of what happens when a politician tries to hew to a fairly moderate line in his policies. He gets battered from the right for his “socialism” and he gets battered from the left for his “failure to do what has to be done and damn the compromises.”
Whether the issue is healthcare reform or Wall Street bailouts, he just can seem to quiet the critics. He is neither moderate enough for the right nor radical enough for the left. I can’t tell you many dinners I have had with friends (mainly on the left of the political spectrum) who express exasperation that Obama hasn’t yet transformed the world to their liking. The dialogue usually ends with our guests uttering an exasperated “he’s really no different than Bush.”
I understand the Republicans’ antipathy, that’s politics. With regard to the liberal critics, I am reminded of Lyndon Johnson’s witty quip regarding the difference between liberals and cannibals, “cannibals don’t eat their friends.”
If there was an issue that is the litmus test of whether Obama is serious about “change you can believe in” education is that issue. The pressures for inertia are enormous and come largely from a traditional Democratic constituency, teachers’ unions (see our blogs of July 28 and 31). If he is willing to buck those unions in order to effect meaningful change, than we all ought to take notice and acknowledge the political courage it demonstrates.
Today’s insightful New York Times’ column by David Brooks offers evidence that Obama is making a meaningful difference. Brooks focuses on the Department of Education’s program for change, Race to the Top——$4.3 billion offered to schools districts around the country as a lever for doing what countless studies have shown works.
As Brooks writes, “Their (the Obama Administration) ideas were good, and their speeches were beautiful. But that was never the problem. The real challenge was going to be standing up to the teachers’ unions and the other groups that have undermined nearly every other reform effort.”
Brooks concludes that the news is “very good.” People concerned about education—from former Governor Jeb Bush to Bill Gates—-have been impressed by “how gritty and effective the Obama administration has been in holding the line and inciting real education reform.” Jeb Bush’s support, Brooks’ reports, is echoed by leaders as diverse as Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton.
States that don’t change their laws to comply with the new federal mandates won’t get federal funds (even dysfunctional California is changing its laws to gain access to the money); more charter schools are being approved; some unions are now agreeing to the “revolutionary” notion that teachers’ pay be related to how they perform.
We aren’t there yet and that are lots of political battles ahead that will offer ample opportunities to waffle and equivocate, but as Brooks writes about the president, so far “he has not wavered.”
I, for one, am getting tired of hearing about “Main Street versus Wall Street,” the inflated salaries of investment bankers, and whether the “public option” is the critical element in health care reform. I will not tire, however, in hearing about what may be the single most important domestic issue we face—-education reform. The question of whether we will have an educated populous that has access to a decent public education, no matter their economic status or background, is critical to America’s future—we seem finally to be heading in the right direction.
October 20, 2009 | 4:43 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
Now that Rush Limbaugh’s name has been dropped from a consortium bidding to buy the National Football League’s Saint Louis Rams, there’s a bit of summarizing that needs to be done.
A lot has been said over the last week about Rush’s involvement in the bid, and now that he’s been forced to drop out, based on claims that’s he’s a racist, many are gloating over what they see as a major victory over the hated conservative talk show host.
Rush is a big boy, with one of the nation’s largest megaphones in the form of a nationally-syndicated radio talk show – one that has the country’s largest listener ratings, so he’s more than capable of defending himself.
Seldom however, do the tactics of the nation’s race industry become so completely transparent. And rarely does the leftward tilt of the nation’s mainstream media get displayed in such obvious ways.
As soon as it became public that Limbaugh had been invited to join with an investment group trying to buy the Rams, Reverend Al Sharpton sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell arguing that the bid should be rejected because Limbaugh is a racist.
What is true is that Limbaugh is flamboyant, can be controversial, and pokes fun at his targets of the day – much in the way that comics and talk-show hosts do on late-night television.
We may need to be reminded that this is the same Al Sharpton who acted as the mouth-piece for Tawana Brawley, a black teen-age girl who claimed she’d been raped by a gang of white men. As we were to discover, much like the recent Colorado balloon hoax, her story had been completely made-up without a shred of truth after tremendous media attention. Part of the fall-out was that Sharpton lost a defamation court case.
This is the same Al Sharpton involved in the infamous 1995 “Freddy’s incident” at a Harlem store of the same name. Sharpton called the Jewish store owner “a white interloper.” His rabble rousing contributed to an environment that resulted in a shooting and fire-bombing at Freddy’s that left seven innocents dead.
He has never accepted his responsibility for these actions - apparently, being Al Sharpton, especially the 2009 version, means never having to say you’re sorry.
What had Limbaugh done to bring about such an overwhelming media reaction and virtual consensus that he is a racist?
While briefly working as an NFL commentator for ESPN in 2003, Limbaugh offered the opinion that: “I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.” And “There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.” Take issue with this if you like, but it was simply Limbaugh’s opinion. Was it racist? It is … only if you think criticizing a black quarterback is racist.
At the time I disagreed with Limbaugh, I think McNabb has been a tough, competent – if somewhat erratic– competitor; calling Limbaugh a racist for his opinion is at best overly sensitive. Even the liberal Slate Magazine agreed with Rush’s assessment, saying “Limbaugh was right. Donovan McNabb isn’t a great quarterback, and the media do overrate him because he’s black.” Is Slate racist as well? It didn’t matter, the spine-less executives at ESPN summarily fired Limbaugh for his comments.
However, since the 2003 comments weren’t seen as convincing enough of Limbaugh’s racism, stories were concocted out of whole-cloth impugning Limbaugh’s racial attitudes. Quotes were attributed to Limbaugh, and then were forwarded directly to CNN and MSNBC, which dutifully incorporated them into their reporting … uncritically.
According to the reports, Limbaugh had praised slavery and James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, on-air. To his credit, only CNN’s Anderson Cooper took the time to investigate the inflammatory claims and judged them untrue.
The non-stop onslaught to derail Limbaugh’s NFL bid included dredging up a quote saying “The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Crips and the Bloods without any weapons.” Racist you say?
A 2008 article in the Los Angeles Times reported that the NFL was so concerned that some players were flashing gang signs that it hired experts to examine game tapes. An earlier probe examined the criminal histories of all NFL players and discovered that a staggering 21 percent had been arrested or indicted for crimes, 26 times more often than the general public.
But since the claims have been made, and spread far and wide by the internet and the mainstream media, how do we know that Limbaugh didn’t say the things he has been charged him?
Well, the very left George Soros has employed a team of stenographers, under the auspices of Media Matters, who transcribe every one of Limbaugh’s radio shows, hoping to discover a career-ending comment. What have they been able to come up with after all these years? Nada, zip, nothing.
The fabrication of claims against Limbaugh is simply another demonstration of how race is used and abused by the nation’s race-hustlers.
October 14, 2009 | 2:43 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Last week The Wide Angle reported on a Rand Corp. study that debunked the rationale behind last year’s Los Angeles City Council ordinance that limited fast food outlets in South Los Angeles for a year. As we reported,
Well, here comes the respected Rand Corp. and it concludes what seems obvious, that “the premises for the ban were questionable…contrary to ‘conventional wisdom,’ the density of fast-food chain restaurants per capita is actually less in South Los Angeles than in other parts of the city…..limiting the type of restaurants that move to the area isn’t likely to solve the problem.”
Interestingly, the study found no difference in fruit and vegetable consumption between residents of South Los Angeles and people in other areas. It also attributed the greater likelihood of South LA residents to be obese to their consuming more snacks and sodas than people who lived in other areas.
One would think that the findings of Rand’s study would give our city leaders pause before once again jumping into the complex arena where personal preferences, economics and a myriad of other influences effect individual choices.
That assumption would be a mistake.
Councilmember Jan Perry, the author of last year’s resolution, is at it again. This time, she seeks to prevent obesity in South LA (although she describes the effort as purely a “land use” matter) by regulating convenience stores. Her proposal would limit the density of small food stores in South LA by requiring a distance of at least half a mile between stores unless they sell fresh fruit and vegetables.
A seemingly noble aim, but to think that this measure is going to make any appreciable difference in food consumption patterns in South LA is silliness.
The Rand study couldn’t be any more explicit in its description of what influences residents of South LA, or any other area for that matter, to consume what it describes as “snack” calories—-“discretionary calories from cookies, candy, salty snacks, soda and alcohol”—that do not satisfy other nutritional needs. People are influenced by “external cues,” which include pictures, ads and food itself. These “snack” calories are “sold widely in nonfood establishments such as car washes, bookstores, hardware stores, laundromats, and office buildings, which do not need special food licenses nor are subject to health regulations or inspections. The ubiquitous availability of food can be overwhelming and artificially stimulate hunger and cravings for food, regardless of physiological needs”
Folks who can’t find the “snack calories” they crave at their local convenience store will cross the street to their local car wash, laundromat, or hardware store because “junk” food is truly “ubiquitous.” As the author of the Rand study has said in response to the Perry initiative, “I would be hesitant to prohibit the development of these stores” because they serve other needs, “people need access to food that is reachable.”
The Rand authors suggest that “portion control or counteradvertising might be more likely to lead to change as far as diet and obesity are concerned.” To confound the issue and demonstrate its complexity, Rand also found that “there are essentially no differences in fruit and vegetable consumption between South Los Angeles residents and others—-in the proportion of the population having five servings of fruit or vegetables a day, average daily servings of fruit, or average daily servings of vegetables.”
Closing off one source of “snack calories” when are there literally dozens of others makes the little Dutch boy with his finger in the cracking dike seem like a genius. Obviously, we can’t curtail the omnipresence of junk food, why not at least focus on avenues that might yield some success—education, advertising, menu labeling,etc.
Many of the problems Los Angeles faces are complex and demand serious examination and thought; they also deserve serious, and not necessarily media-genic, responses from our local leaders. We do a disservice to the people who need help when we assuage our consciences by doing things that make no real world difference but have the appearance of change.
Over 35 years ago, the late Irving Kristol warned of this type of reform that is “more concerned with the kind of symbolic action that gratifies the passions of the reformer than with the efficacy of the reforms themselves.”