Mon, May

Last Word on the Correspondents' Dinner: The Right Wing Served Its Own Brand of Whine


GELFAND’S WORLD--During the 2016 election campaign, conservatives made a big deal about political correctness.

This seems to be a term describing a normal human's outrage over overt racism. It can also include a normal person's demand that people confined to wheel chairs get provided with ways of getting into buildings and crossing the streets. During the campaign, conservatives such as the current cabinet Secretary Ben Carson treated it as more -- as an existential threat to the nation -- complaining, "Political correctness will destroy us if we don't wake up." 

Virginia Heffernan, writing in the LA Times, defined the term admirably: "When you hear someone criticizing 'political correctness,' try substituting the word 'conscience." She added, "When we can't be bothered to temper our provincialism -- or lechery and racism -- we get to dress up ignorance as bravery, rebellion." 

Well, it seems that our conservative friends have a case of "you can dish it out but you can't take it" when it comes to political correctness. Case in point: the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Comedian Michelle Wolf told a few obvious truisms, referring to the demonstrated fact that this president and the people who work for him lie incessantly. I don't see why that fact should be particularly controversial. It's just that she managed to use a few words that colloquially refer to body parts, which gave the political opposition an excuse to complain. 

Aren't those complaints precisely what the conservatives would have called 'political correctness' if it had been used against them? You know, the old line, "I was just joking. Don't they have a sense of humor?" 

Wolf obviously meant her jokes to be serious criticism. Her detractors are the best examples of the old line, "You can dish it out, but you can't take it." 


And the whiner in chief responded in exactly the same way, taking joy in doing damage to the annual dinner by refusing to show up. 

We can give up on the dinner if need be, but the truths told by Michelle Wolf and by Steven Colbert a dozen years earlier need to be remembered. And also remember that when Donald Trump was called out by then-president Barack Obama, Trump had been carrying on his own private Klan meeting by pushing the idea that Obama was not born in the United States. Only during the latter days of the presidential campaign did Trump change his tune on that claim. 

It's time to say, "I told you so!" to Trump's supporters. 

In temporal order: 

Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen paid off porn actress Stormy Daniels to the tune of $130,000 in hush money. The timing was perfect because it was right before the election. 

Later, Trump denied having any knowledge of the payoff. 

Trump recently brought Rudy Giuliani into his orbit. 

Giuliani then went on the Sean Hannity show this week and said that Trump paid the $130,000 back to Cohen. That's pretty much Giuliani accusing Trump (and his lawyer) of a big time campaign finance violation and doing so on a national hookup

This latest revelation makes Trump out to be a major liar for the nth time, where n is a very large number. 

As of this writing, Trump is now apparently denying having had an affair with the actress. With a man of his high credibility, this should be an easy claim to sell. 


The take home lesson at this point has to be that Trump's supporters understand that he says one thing on Tuesday and then says exactly the opposite on Thursday. They know full well that Trump is a liar. 

We told you so. 



By the way, the Trumpistas also have to recognize that Trump makes Bill Clinton look like a monk, but they still pretend to be pious evangelicals. 

If you still support Trump's behavior, then you are not pious, whether or not you are evangelical.




All in all, this puts Trump supporters and the current generation of political evangelicals in their place. And it's not a good place.



Feedback to reader feedback 

I got a few comments on my last article where I suggested that the way to make neighborhood councils relevant is to give them some real power. I deliberately chose a negative sort of power -- the ability to veto acts of the City Council -- for sound reasons. In short, it's easier to stop something than to build something from scratch. I doubt that neighborhood councils distributed all over the city would be very good at getting together and crafting legislation, but they would be able to say No when it is called for -- say for that ordinance that caused all those increases in trash hauling fees. 

This is in keeping with the true conservatism built into the original Constitution -- the idea of checks and balances, the concept that no single person gets absolute power. Right now, City Council representatives have too much arbitrary power within their own districts, and they seem to violate the public interest too often. 

We got comments pointing out that the stakeholder definition needs to be fixed. I couldn't agree with you more. No more of that Starbucks Patron voter or even the latest incarnation, the community interest stakeholder. 

Allow me to point out that I have been making similar comments for more than a decade. I've published a few articles in CityWatch suggesting that neighborhood council membership should be limited to residents of their districts. 

Whether giving real power to neighborhood councils implies that my more limited definition of stakeholder status is correct is a more complicated discussion. At the very least, the dilution of neighborhood resident views by outside developer votes has to be strictly defined and effectively limited. My view will continue to be that neighborhood councils should represent the interests of residents.

A reader named Bill said the following: "A corrupt city council isn't going to answer to community stakeholders. They do have to be revamped but nothing will change until a corrupt city council and mayor are revamped." 

Reply: My concern isn't so much the petty crimes (if they exist) where somebody is dipping into the petty cash. I'm more concerned about what's formally legal. The fact that the members of the City Council fell for the arguments that led to the trash hauler monopolies and voted for the Sea Breeze development are far more weighty issues. I don't think it's useful to insist that the City Council be rendered pure as the new fallen snow before we take any action at the neighborhood council level to curb developer influence. My argument in favor of small neighborhood councils consisting of regular folks having some ability to say No is not a panacea. It's just an idea of creating some actual empowerment of city residents. It's ironic that there is a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (calling itself "Empower LA") that oversees a system which provides no empowerment. 

A reader named Kelly said this: "Board members with deep conflicts of interest should be summarily removed and banned forever." 

Reply: Perhaps we're using the term differently here. Everybody has some kind of conflict of interest. I'm involved with a local film society, and I have to recuse myself anytime something comes up that would potentially aid that group. For this reason, I won't vote on any financial assistance motion ("neighborhood purpose grant") when my film society is on the agenda. If we are talking about people having conflicts of interest who continue to vote in ways that support those private interests, then there is a point. I suspect that the appropriate way to deal with such votes is to file a grievance that asks that the nc's action be declared void based on an illegal vote having been cast. The idea of banning someone forever strikes me as falling under the "cruel or unusual punishment" definition. 

A reader named Hilary Steinberg writes: "I have attended many nc meetings in my community. I stopped going after I realized how connected they are to our council office. It appears as though they follow what the councilman instructs them to do." 

Reply: Down in our neck of the woods, we would find it strange indeed that (1) the City Councilman would try to instruct us as to how we should act and (2) that we would obey. As a neighborhood council, we don't work for the City Councilman, and we've understood since we were certified (December, 2001) that our job is to evaluate and criticize government agencies and the elected leadership. Perhaps somebody should make this point during public comment. 


The Annual Neighborhood Council Congress

I got an email asking for a continuing discussion of expanding the focus of the annual Neighborhood Council Congress. Let's remind the people of Los Angeles that the NC Congress belongs to all of us, not just a small, self-appointed committee. (Note: I have participated on that committee from time to time, so I'm not pointing the finger here.) Anyway, the funding for the Congress comes from neighborhood councils all over the city, which means in practice that it comes from the taxpayers of the city of Los Angeles. 

The way to deal with this question is to create two (or even three) separate groups that have individual control over some part of the Congress. Each group gets at least one breakout session to control at every time period. 

The original organizing group can have control over one of the two sessions -- opening or closing -- and the choice of the caterer. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]


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