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My Last Sunday Column: The Importance of Remaining Engaged — and Taking Moral Responsibility for Your Moral Actions

A young man responded to a recent column by emailing me the story of a moral dilemma he faced when he saw a bee on the ground, unable to fly, its wings flapping desperately, disoriented.

“I stood there watching the bee a long time, just to see if it would fly away… I felt many things, to name a few, sadness anger…Thinking of all the chemicals and pesticides we use on plants, flowers, and how bees and animals, in general, are treated…Anyway I just stood there thinking and feeling bad for the bee so I decided to step on it and end its misery. It sounds mean, but I did it with the best intentions at heart.”

It seems a small thing, I suppose, but something about it intrigued me so I engaged in a conversation with him. He told he never finished high school, working odd jobs more than attending class, and said his name was Abel Montes Jr., and that he was 21 and looking for work.

I thought about his story and our conversation for days trying to understand why crushing a dying bee seemed to hold a greater meaning. It crystallized the other night watching the new movie “Hannah Arendt” about the great writer and political thinker who created a global uproar in 1960 with her account of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Israel.

Her judgment on Eichmann’s role in the Holocaust was captured in her book’s subtitle and its final words — “the banality of evil.”

Watching the trial, she concluded that Eichmann was the epitome of the “good German” — an unthinking (and poorly educated) bureaucrat who did his duty and obeyed the law without taking even the slightest responsibility for his actions.

Arendt accepted his claim that he was not anti-Semitic and argued that the greatest evils in history were not perpetuated by the fanatics like Hitler but by ordinary people who accepted the orders from authority without resistance or challenge, without thinking for themselves.

In other words, we all have the moral imperative to make conscious and deliberate choices, to stand up for our beliefs, even when it comes to whether we walk on by or decide to terminate the life of a dying bee.

I have tried and largely failed for the last 50 years as a journalist, as a citizen, to put into words the world as I see it, as I experience it, to attempt to define the moral calculus of our collective lives. As circumstances would have it, the death of a bee will stand as the last metaphor of my relationship with you on Sundays in the Glendale News-Press, though I still intend to write occasionally on topics of local interest.

It hasn’t been easy writing this column nearly every Sunday for the last three years. I don’t live in the Glendale-Burbank-Pasadena area. I don’t know the communities that well so every week required reinventing the wheel, discovering a story with relevance to the region, and trying to peel away the nonsense to reveal some meaningful core.

I couldn’t have done it without the help of a lot of people including public servants like Glendale City Manager Scott Ochoa and Sgt. Tom Lorenz, the city’s public information officer, whose openness in discussing city issues and willingness to provide access to public documents is in sharp contrast to the way writers are treated in the town I’ve called home for so long, Los Angeles.

For the last 33 years of my 50-year career in journalism, Los Angeles has been my news beat — a city I love and hate, a post-cultural society where traditional institutions of family, tribe, religion are weak, where the myths of absolute freedom have been twisted into a narcissistic belief that you can be anything you want, have anything you want — if you want it bad enough.

It is a culture of greed and selfishness on a scale the world has never seen before.

Many of us come here to reinvent ourselves, to work out our karma as a I did in the San Fernando Valley, where I found a calling at the Daily News as an apostle of the middle class, something I’d run away from in my youth.

The story of the Valley, once the largest geographical enclave of middle-class life in the world, and City Hall’s assault on it has been my story through exposure of the officially-sanctioned use of police violence against the poor and minorities, the documentation of how the Valley is denied a fair share of city services and the trumpeting of the possibilities of what the Valley could be like as its own city — the richest, safest and most integrated big city in America.

After retiring in 2008, I wrote columns nearly every day on my blog about the destructive actions and policies of City Hall, organized community groups to fight for a more responsive and democratic city government and founded a citizen journalism project — all futile efforts in the face of a political system that is as closed and narrow as any in America.

It’s not like that in your communities, which is why I jumped at the offer in early 2011 from News-Press Editor Dan Evans to write a weekly column.

It has been refreshing, cleansing really, to learn more about your communities and see how they work, to break out of the strangling conformity of corporate journalism’s formats, to express myself in writing better than I had ever done before.

You made good choices living in cities where people still count, where the concerns of the residents and businesses are important to officials, where elections are not under the absolute control of a political machine with all the money and power.

Your cities are not paradises, but the streets and sidewalks are paved, the infrastructure generally in good repair, crime low, the economies relatively healthy. They would be even better if more of you paid attention and got involved in community life and the political process.

At a time when America is engaged in a suicidal national political war that is casting a dark shadow over all our futures, we need to take far more seriously what is going on all around us.

We need to stop being “good Americans,” stop accepting the orders of the state, stop surrendering to the controls of the corporations, stop defining ourselves as little more than consumers of goods and services.

We have left the fight for our country’s survival to the fanatics on the fringes and powerful special interests while most of us act like we are just innocent bystanders without a stake in the outcome. It’s time we stand up for what we believe and respect the beliefs of others. It is the only way we will find the common ground and deal successfully with a world that is changing so dramatically.


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18 Responses to My Last Sunday Column: The Importance of Remaining Engaged — and Taking Moral Responsibility for Your Moral Actions

  1. John Walsh says:

    Ron Kaye’s community political efforts have not been “futile”!

    • The Q says:

      Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with John Walsh.

      Ron, no way have your efforts been futile.

      I got up off my lazy arse and went to 4 LAWA runway expansion meetings and actually waited hours at these meetings just to be able to talk for 2 minutes.

      For the first time ever, I voted for a Republican – Kevin James.

      Ron, if you ever feel your efforts have been futile, I leave you with this quote:

      “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
      ― Robert F. Kennedy

      Never give up the quest my friend, never give up the quest.

  2. H wood says:

    In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein make similar lamentations. One irony which I notice from reading Ron Kaye’s website is how many of the comments reflect the same extreme political polarization which Mann and Ornstein describe.

    On both the national and local level, the general public is clueless about the forces which have been affecting us for decades. Far too many want to engage in irrational diatribes against Obama or Mexicans or illegals. These bigoted and racist rants contribute to the problem as they leave no room for rational political or economic discussion.

    DEMS refuse to admit the extent to which the Obama Administration has contributed to the Washington gridlock. The absurd nature of the Congressional tea baggers is impossible to miss, but the silence of the Obama Administration goes sight unseen. As a result, the DEMS have no theoretical basis to counteract the reactionary economic demands of the tea baggers. Worse yet, it turns out that Obama himself adheres to the reactionary, absurd myth that the Deficit is a problem.

    As a result, we see people like Rachel Maddow complaining about the slow economic recovery while praising Obama’s reducing the Deficit. Rather, Rachel Maddow should point out that Obama’s obsession with lowering the Deficit is a significant part of the problem.

    Because Obama’s adheres to the reactionary economic theory that the Deficit needs to be cut, the economic discussion in Washington these last 5 years has been the sound of one hand clapping. If there had been an informed discussion of Keynesian economics during the last 5 years, the nation would know about the terribly destructive impact that Corruption has on our lives. As Ron points out, the Corruptionism which infests L.A. City Hall is destroying the city. There is, however, no national context within which to discuss the economic disaster which Corruptionism brings to us nationally and locally.

    Back in 2006, when Gail Goldberg was the new Director of Planning, she warned that Garcetti’s practice of allowing corrupt developers to buy whatever zoning they wanted was leading to “disaster.” When the 2010 US Census came out in 2011, we all saw the destruction caused by lies and corruption. Hollywood had lost 12,500 people while Garcetti was CD #13 councilman. The census showed that LaBonge’s CD#4 had gained population, except for a few census tracts which were contingent to CD # 13. The US census also showed that the population loss was greatest in the census tracts contingent to the corrupt CRA projects and subway stations, all of which were in CD 13. Thus, Garcetti’s corruption drove out so many people that it overwhelmed the people who moved into CD 4 portion of Hollywood. But, the census showed that Things Were Even Worse Than They Looked; the socio-economic status of Hollywood CD 13 had fallen and the family size in CD 13 had similarly decreased. Thus, Garcetti’s corruption was driving out the more stable families and they were being replaced with transients unmarrieds. Typically, they are people who favor nightclubs over streets repairs and good schools.

    With Obama’s abandoning Keynes on a national level, no one on a local level had the context within which to discuss the harm being done to Hollywood and Los Angeles. When Sacarmento abolished the CRA, they did hold up Garcetti’s Cesspool on Vine as the type corruption which mandated that the CRA’s be abolished, but that observation did not provide a context for the full analysis and discussion.

    Here’s the connection between Keynes and anti-Corruptionism. The main purpose of Keynes is to end the Business Cycle of Boom and Bust. In order to stabilize the economy, the Price Structure must be protected. Adam Smith made the same point back in 1776 when he wrote Wealth of Nations. Thus, Keynesian theory was not saying anything new.

    The Price System is used to tell everyone the Value of anything and everything all the time. No businessman and no consumer can make intelligent choices about what to manufacture, where to invest, or what to purchase when the Price System does not report the True Values.

    The frauds in the residential mortgage market up to and including the securitization of bundled mortgages with their “safeguard” of Credit Default Swaps mislead the entire world about the Value of new homes. Because the increase in home prices mislead people into believing that millions of people were doing well enough to afford to buy more homes for higher prices, billions of dollars were attracted into the home construction market. This situation went unchecked because the GOP and the DEM had destroyed two Keynesian protections: (1) Glass-Steagall and (2) the outlawing of Credit Default Swaps.

    The extra wealth which the frauds had attracted into the home construction market vanished. If there had been no frauds in the mortgage market, then those hundreds of billions of dollars would have been spent in other areas of the economy in order to sustain and improve our standard of living. Wisely invested dollars would have generated more wealth which would have been appropriately re-invested and the nation could have experience continue prosperity. Instead, an increasing share of the remaining wealth went to the top 1%, while the bottom 90% stagnated or become poorer.

    As Keynesians had learned from the 1930′s, allowing big business to engage in massive frauds distorts the Price System so that people do not really know which investments are decent and which are bogus.

    At the same time, Garcetti embarked on his massive and corrupt CRA construction in Hollywood. As council president, nothing was more important for Garcetti than keeping the flow of tax dollars going to his developer buddies. He used the fraudulent LAFD Deployment Report to take $200 M from the paramedics and firefighters. Then, he pushed the Millennium Earthquake Towers knowing about the Hollywood Fault line running through the Millennium’s property.

    Angelenos had no national discussion of the need to protect the Price System from fraud. Had Obama criminally prosecuted the Wall Street crooks and their functionaries like Timmy Geithner, then there would have been a national forum to discuss how fraud destroys the Price System and wrecks the economy, and how similar corruption was destroying Hollywood.

    The harm which the Obama Administration has done by Obama’s turning away from Keynes and embracing reactionary economic policies has been truly monumental. There has been no counter to the delusional tea bagger reactionary belief that the Deficit must be lowered and crooks must not be prosecuted (e.g. no regulations). In fact, the tea baggers and Obama are kissin’ cuzins when it comes to economic policy.

    • LA Moderator says:

      Much of what you say is spot on, particularly to those of us who have spent time on the CD4/CD13 border…

      But I guess I’m more of a Fresh Water guy, for some good reasons. Every time I read Krugman, I cringe…there comes a point where the efficacy of Fed controls are suspect, and particularly so when the corruptionists have taken seats in all the board rooms AND policy chambers, where the masque of Keynes covers up the ‘Guy Fawkes’ lurking beneath. The defecit is no longer the helpful tool that you invision, because its accumulation does not correspond to spending that is properly stimulative.

      That’s not to say that governmental activity is unneeded or unwelcome, but that, too, is laden with its own kind of cronyism (a jaded cliche perhaps, but the truth of it cannot be denied). That’s certainly the case in ouf TOD mindset for planning in L.A.

      Lastly, while there’s certainly too much antagonism in some attempts of frustrated citizens to express their concerns for faux-progressive policies, or the strange bedfellows sharing ‘immigration reform’, for all your condemnation of either extreme, using ‘tea baggers’, blindly and disparingly, belies your mien of moderacy.

  3. wayne from encino says:

    Cheer up Ron! We have an upcoming stock
    market crash and obamacare tax increases!

    • H wood says:

      I’d rather pay more taxes than see a poor person suffer without medical care.

      I’d rather not see another BUST in the Business Cycle, but I do believe one is coming

  4. robert hertzberg says:

    Dear Ron: You have been an important voice- I don’t always agree, but I am “over the moon” that you push the system in a world where few push – and that you have “pushed” me. I agree with your imperative, hence, I am getting back in- I just don’t want to challenge the “status quo” in the traditional manner, it is often unproductive and without a strategic direction. I don’t know, but I think I have a sense of where we need to “restructure” to serve the interests of the “opportunity class” (no one wants to be “middle”)- not sure I can be successful, but, as you suggest, we all have an obligation to try, and try I will.

  5. John Colvin says:

    Sorry to see you go Ron. The views you have on many subjects are the same as mine.
    I read about the actions of our government are just can’t understand it. We have a so – called “bullet train” forced upon us weather we want it or not – it’s not even going to be close to what the voters approved. Obama care is the law or the land – like it or not. You were promised you could keep your own insurance (yeah right). Ex-Governor Arnold S. pardons one of his friends sons jail sentence. Our elected officials are accused of everything from outright corruption to sending pictures of their private parts to others. Taxes keep rising to where its almost not worth working anymore. I never studied about the fall of the Roman empire but wonder if we are facing the same reality now. As I said you views on life & government will be sorely missed. In these times we really need someone like you to open our eyes to what is going on. I wish you the best in your future projects.

  6. wayne from encino says:

    Martin bashir, alec Baldwin, and Katie couric all driven off t.v.? Proof God exists!

    • MissAnthrope says:

      Interesting way of reverse capitalizing their names.

      Martin Bashir is gone? He wasn’t too bad, but his voice was an ear-destroyer.

      Now if MSNBC wants to have the perfect trifecta of firings they should ax Ed Schultz. Not only is he an idiot, but a double, triple idiot when it comes to talking about L.A. He doesn’t have a clue!

  7. wayne from encino says:

    KTLK 1170am
    goes conservative in JAN. Gone with Bill Press and all the commies

  8. Off Topic says:

    Could someone tell me who/what decides when and if Council gets a raise? This is ridiculous!!!!

  9. this blogs last post---wayne from encino says:

    Ron has ceased fighting. The 75 largest campaign donors are pleased!

  10. Lisa Cerda says:

    Ron, you have two gifts, the pen and the tongue. Your forum was too small for a gift so big. Time for a book! I get first copy.

  11. Wayne from Encino subbing in for Ron-in-Hiding 12/20/2013 whose posts have to await moderation sometimes says:

    Duck Dynasty’s Phil—–FOR L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Julie says:

    FYI: An investigation into claims made by Nathan Winograd and his NoKill Advocacy Center: Research is tedious but without it, people can make outrageous claims about accomplishments. It is fair to research facts.

  13. Somehow I did not post a comment about Ron’s announcement. Ron, you were part of the reason why I started my blog. I hope you occasionally write for Citywatch. LA without your voice will be a loss for the public.

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