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Haitian ruins offer lessons for our city.


We're not Haiti, not by any stretch, and let's be thankful for that. The quake that flattened Port-au-Prince and killed tens of thousands is a far cry from even the worst of the worst of L.A.'s First World problems.

Yet, the endless video of grief coming from the Caribbean somehow turned my thoughts toward Los Angeles. There's a lesson for us in the Haitian tragedy, a lesson beyond the obvious value of seismic codes, retrofitting and emergency responders.

Politics matters!

As has been pointed out by everyone from President Barack Obama to Pat "Pact with the Devil" Robertson, Haiti shares the island Columbus called Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. But topography and climate are all Haiti has in common with her neighbor. East of the Haitian border, the citizens of the Dominican Republic live with opportunity and dignity. While a very poor country, the government in Santo Domingo at least offers its people a fighting chance.

That's not the case in Port-au-Prince.

For centuries, the Haitian people have suffered as chattel slaves, colonial pawns or cannon fodder for despots. Haiti is the poster child for failed states. It's not an exaggeration to say a Leggo village has more structural integrity than Port-au-Prince. No responsible government would play earthquake roulette with the lives of its people, yet this has been the Haitians' reality for three centuries.

So what can Los Angeles, the home of tanning beds, laser hair removal and pet therapists, possibly learn from a country so poor its people literally eat mudcakes? And that was With justification, many Angelenos and Californians see government as a nuisance: essentially a shakedown that's only after our money.

However, by dropping out of the system we surrender our birthright to the crooks and incompetents, the demagogues and tin pot tyrants. Government can be a blessing or a curse. That's the lesson of the two-nation island of Hispaniola. Maybe it's not as obvious in the 818, 323 and 213 area codes, but that doesn't make it less true here.

L.A. is heaven on earth compared to Haiti, or Fresno for that matter. But that doesn't justify the culture of political malpractice and public indifference that's spread like fungus in Los Angeles. We call the L.A. Unified School District's many failures "unacceptable" but in reality, we have accepted them. For almost two decades we allowed murderous street gangs to use kids for target practice. Our press corps has often acted as the public relations advance team for the mayor or governor or whomever was providing the photo-op de jour. We're not Haiti, but we're not nearly as good as we can be.

Let's pray for the Haitians and help as we can, but let's also remember just because someone else has cancer doesn't mean we have to enjoy our broken leg.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 17, 2010
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