Thursday, August 14, 2008

How Los Angeles is really governed

Those who have toiled at City Hall or had extensive dealings with it, should realize the following:

First, the ideology guiding the governance of the City of Los Angeles is neo-liberalism, not New Deal liberalism, as some people imagine because most City officials are Democrats. This is exactly same neo-liberal approach which now prevails at the Federal and State levels. It also is shared by this country's two ruling political parties. As far as I can tell, everyone who holds office in Los Angeles or has even an outside chance of getting elected, holds the same outlook.

(To the extent that liberalism ever existed at the local level, it was in the 1930s when the City of LA built public housing.)

Neo-liberalism means, in theory and practice, tilting government to promote the private sector. This translates to increased use of regressive taxes (user fees, sales taxes, property taxes) to redistribute wealth and income upwards. It also means reduced regulation of goods and services, as well as lax enforcement of whatever codes remain. Building and Safety's performance in Los Angeles is really no difference than the FDA in Washington. Pay to play is the name of the game.

Neo-liberalism also means cronyism. In Washington the current favorites might be Blackwater and Halliburton, but will shift to other companies once Obama is likely elected. In Sacramento it is companies like DMJM, and in Los Angeles, it is Tutor-Saliba. It also entails enormous subsidies for certain insiders, like Eli Broad and Anshutz Entertainment.

Finally, neo-liberalism means spending an increasing amount of governmental revenue on spying, surveillance, and maintaining "law and order." At the Federal level, this means about 1,000 foreign military installations, a trillion dollar plus annual military budget, invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and, as far as we know, intercepting every domestic phone call and email. At the State level it has meant pall-mall prison construction, the only part of State government which has expanded. At the City level it has meant continuous expansion of the LAPD, at the expense of other municipal services since the Bradley administration.

At all three levels of government, the latter component of neo-liberalism is sold through fear and scapegoating, usually of terrorism and various immigrant groups. For the most part these are just ruses to justify government policies and programs to promote inequality in wealth and income, increasing cronyism, increasing regressive taxes, reduced regulation and code enforcement, and increasing social and political control.

This is a grim description of governance in the United States, including Los Angeles, but I hope that realism can open up some eyes, at least to the ruses which are used to bamboozle many community activists. After all, the decline in the quality of life which we experience daily has everything to do with the way the City, State, and Federal Government are so poorly run. They are inextricably linked, and those concerned about small scams at City Hall might also consider the local consequences of spending $3 trillion on an energy war in Iraq or even shipping $65,000,000,000 in U.S. military hardware to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and Kuwait.

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