Pubdate: Tue, 15 Aug 2000
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2000 The Sacramento Bee
Contact:  P.O.Box 15779, Sacramento CA 95852
Author: Arianna Huffington


"If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals,"
said G. K. Chesterton, "it is the modern strengthening of minor morals."

The latest manifestation of this truth is Al Gore and Democratic National
Committee chairman Joe Andrews blowing their stack over Rep. Loretta
Sanchez' proposed fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion, while seemingly having
no problem with the fact that their convention's host city is the poverty
capital of the United States -- with one in three children living below the
poverty line. "We have no alternative but to take action," said Andrews'
spokesperson. Not, you understand, about the immorality of the children
being -- in the phrase of the day -- left behind, but about the immorality
of politicians, who trade of their votes for money, trodding the same turf
as Playmates, who take off their clothes for money.

And who, by the way, would not even have been at the Sanchez party.

In a sharply worded letter to Sanchez, Andrews said that "as the father of
young children" he was troubled by the message being sent. Apparently he
wasn't troubled by the message being sent by the fact that, according to a
United Way report, "economic conditions for children in Los Angeles have not
been so precarious since the Great Depression." That's obviously no big
deal. But a little soft money changing hands in Hef's grotto -- for the DNC
folk, that's "the end of the line." Isn't this what's known as a tempest in
a hot tub?

Were there any further proof needed that the convention at the Staples
Center is all about preserving images, the Sanchez-Playboy episode was
ludicrous confirmation. So the DNC convention is about spinning a fantasy --
of a world in a state of perfect order, morality and prosperity. Which is
why we're holding a Shadow Convention just down the street -- to shine the
spotlight on reality.

The Shadow Convention is about the one in three children in Los Angeles
County living below the poverty line. The Democratic convention is about the
unprecedented economic prosperity that has given us a 400 percent increase
in the number of billionaires in the last decade.

The Shadow Convention is going to offer a grim daily reminder that Los
Angeles has the largest number of poor of any metropolitan area, that the
number of abused children placed in foster care here has risen 86 percent in
the last 10 years, and that homicide is still the No. 1 cause of death for
children under 18. The other convention will do everything it can to make
you forget all this: downtown has been given a multimillion-dollar
comb-over, the homeless have been swept from the streets, and the Staples
Center is sealed off from reality behind a 13-foot-high chain-link fence.

City leaders and convention organizers are clearly determined not to let
anything disturb their carefully airbrushed facade. "Los Angeles has never
looked better," crowed its mayor, Richard Riordan, as he rolled out a
photo-op-friendly red carpet in front of the Staples Center. "We want some
positive images," echoed Noelia Rodriguez, head of L.A.'s host committee,
"so that we don't continually see reruns of the same negatives." Yes, it
gets so boring seeing again and again all those shots of downtown
sweatshops, multimillion-dollar toxic school sites and corrupt cops caught
up in the Rampart scandal.

Still shaking his pompoms, Riordan promised to show conventioneers "the best
beaches, the best mountains, the best weather ... the best restaurants, the
best theaters.

But most of all, we will show them the most diverse and beautiful people in
the world -- Angelenos." As long as they aren't carrying a protest sign. In
which case, convention organizers would rather you just looked the other
way. "We're not going to let 200 criminally minded people ruin this
convention," said Riordan. "It's going to be a wonderful, happy time." Even
if it means suspending the Constitution -- including trying to search the
protesters' headquarters without a warrant and illegally detaining protest

The local authorities seem intent on enforcing a zero tolerance policy for
anyone hoping to remind people of what one human rights activist called "the
politics behind the protests." "We have plenty of room" in the county jails,
chirped Sheriff Lee Baca.

It's hard to see how, since Los Angeles has the state's highest rate of
imprisoning people convicted of misdemeanor drug possession -- a 2,700
percent increase since 1980. The price tag for locking up L.A.'s misdemeanor
drug offenders for a year: a whopping $110 million.

Is that what's known as "affordable housing" these days?

From the comfort of the luxury skyboxes at the Staples Center, life must
seem so cozy, so secure and so safe -- not just from protesters but from
ordinary citizens.

And it's so easy to paint all the demonstrators that will fill the streets
this week with the same brush -- demonizing anyone not buying into the
Democrats' "Progress and Prosperity" charade.

The message is clear: "Don't mess with our party." But a democracy dismisses
its disillusioned, disaffected and disregarded at its own peril.
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MAP posted-by: Don Beck