Tue, Dec

Will Riots Inflame California?


GUEST COMMENTARY-Can “flash mobs” strike Caliifornia as they have Milwaukee and other cities? Are the London riots a precursor to a repeat of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, perhaps this time in other cities as well?

In Pasadena, activists and the local newspapers have created hysteria about hate graffiti found on cars at a local public housing project and on mailboxes at a local post office in a minority neighborhood. According to the Pasadena Star-News:

“On Aug. 8, anti-Semitic images and slurs aimed at blacks were found in and around the Kings Village apartment complex.

“On Sunday, vandals used a black marker to leave a message targeting Latinos on curb planters.

“Police have no leads, and clues indicate that the two incidents were not done by the same group.

“ ‘We don’t believe (the incidents) to be related,’ police Lt. Tracey Ibarra said. “It wasn’t spray paint in the second incident, which is what was used in first incident.”

The graffiti are reprehensible.  Yet, no group, gang or anonymous individual has claimed responsibility for the graffiti. Nor are the police reporting the graffiti messages indicate the signature style or wording of a known gang.

Social Context

There is no indication that this graffiti is anything more than adolescent misbehavior.  But the social context probably tells us more about what this incident means.

While the hate graffiti are being investigated, we have to be careful. As sociologist James Davison Hunter writes in his book, “To Change the World: Irony, Tragedy and Possibility in the Late Modern World,” American society has a tendency toward a victimization culture partly incentivized by the welfare state and misguided religion. There is a sociological theory called Symbolic Interaction that says that groups often communicate with one another indirectly through symbols. Symbolic meaning derives from group social interaction.

This might explain why a community meeting on these hate crimes was being held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for widespread media coverage, rather than at a local church, park or other venue. The newspapers are curiously reporting the rally at the Rose Bowl focused on “unity” rather than concern about hate crimes.  [link]

In 2004, Claremont College psychology professor Kerri Dunn infamously claimed her car was vandalized and spray-painted with racist messages after she spoke at a forum on racism.  It was later found that it was a hoax perpetrated by the so-called victim. Dunn was later convicted of insurance fraud and filing a false police report and sentenced to one year in jail.

At stake in the Kerri Dunn case were racial, gender and ethnic quotas for professors at the Claremont Colleges. Dunn was trying to get special job protections for minority and women teachers by claiming that they were victims of racism.

Public Housing Problem

It’s possible that the recent Pasadena graffiti incidents might originate in the local neighborhood and not from outsiders.

But whatever is discovered about the hate crimes, an important discussion is needed about the sustainability of public housing in Pasadena. In the London riots, the “austerity” budget of new Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has been blamed, although he denies it.

Those in the Democratic Party correctly perceive that what is forthcoming is the end or unraveling of the welfare state in the United States, not due to hate, but to a lack of money.  This is why there is so much psychological reversing of animosity and scapegoating on to those in the Tea Party who, welfare recipients perceive, want to take away welfare benefits.

Just this past weekend, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, attacked the Tea Party. [link] “This is a tough game,” she said. “You can’t be intimidated. You can’t be frightened. And as far as I’m concerned — the Tea Party can go straight to hell.”

But if the Tea Party were not there, the reality would not go away.  California is stuck running annual $20 billion budget deficits and the federal government is arguably broke when balloon payments on future social entitlement programs are factored into the balance sheet. Politically shaking down the middle class for their retirements and home equity to further the cause affordable housing has only brought about the rise of the Tea Party, which will likely continue to grow even across party lines.

Wealth Transfer

According to Zillow.com, those in the middle class, such as the Tea Party, had $9 trillion in equity in their homes wiped out in the Mortgage Crisis of 2008 after the ill-fated policy to provide affordable housing to nearly everyone. That is 12 times the cost of the Iraq War up to September 2010.  The unintended consequence of the Community Reinvestment Act, sub-prime loans and securitized housing bonds was the debasing of the value of the U.S. currency, triggering a bank panic.

The Mortgage Meltdown was the largest instantaneous wealth transfer from the middle class to the lower class in the history of the United States.  To put this in comparison, the entire War on Poverty cost $16.7 trillion from 1964 to 2008, adjusted for inflation.

If we’re going to prevent London-style riots and property crimes aimed at capitalist businesses and increasing social class polarization, we’re going to have to have brutally honest discussions about the viability of the welfare state.  Symbolic extortion will not lead to saving the welfare state when there no longer is any money.

The public should be skeptical of solutions to social problems proposed by either “the System” or “the Horde” of activists and government-cloned non-profit agencies.

Conversely, the claims of conservatives that “flash mobs” and riots are not the problem of too few subsidies but too many must also be questioned, even if there is some truth to it.

The questions should be: How much of a welfare state can we continue to afford? Can we make programs like public housing self-sustaining? Can the State of California continue to afford providing luxury public goods and services, such as redundant stem cell research, water bonds that mainly fund open-space acquisitions for wealthy elite communities and bonds that only make affordable housing into luxury housing while those in public housing are anxious about the continuation of benefits?

Conflicting groups apparently don’t want direct communication about tough issues and thus prefer symbolic interaction.  I will take symbolic interaction over violence or property crimes any day.  But let’s cut through the social and media fictions and redirect the public rage into something more productive. The outcome of our cities, states and civilization may depend on it.

(Wayne Lusvardi blogs at CalWatchdog.com where this column first appeared.)

Vol 9 Issue 67
Pub: Aug 23, 2011