Oct 18, 2022

The scandal in Los Angeles.

Mayor Eric Garcetti (right) and City Council President Nury Martinez (left) at an event in January. Image: LA Fire Department
Mayor Eric Garcetti (right) and City Council President Nury Martinez (left) at an event in January. Image: LA Fire Department

A leaked recording of racist remarks has turned into a national story.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

We're discussing the scandal in Los Angeles over a leaked audio recording of racist remarks. Plus, a question about why Biden is blamed for inflation when inflation is happening globally. 

Quick hits.

  1. More than 8 million people have submitted student loan forgiveness applications since a beta website launched on Friday, President Biden announced. (The launch)
  2. Rapper Kanye West announced his intention to buy Parler, a Twitter alternative, shortly after West's Twitter account was suspended. (The purchase)
  3. Steve Bannon is facing prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation of six months in jail and a $200,000 fine for a contempt of Congress conviction after failing to comply with the House Jan. 6 committee's subpoenas. (The charges)
  4. Russia's latest airstrikes have damaged energy and water infrastructure in Ukraine, prompting power cuts to thousands of civilians. (The strikes)
  5. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has ordered the nation’s three nuclear plants to stay open through 2023. They were previously scheduled to be closed down by the end of this year. (The extension)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

Los Angeles' city council turmoil. On Wednesday, Nury Martinez resigned her seat on the Los Angeles City Council, just a week after the leaked audio of a racist conversation among Latino political leaders made its way to the press.

Back up: Earlier this month, audio was posted on Reddit of a conversation between Martinez and council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, as well as Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera. The conversation was from October of 2021. In the recording, the group is mostly discussing how they can redraw their districts to ensure they maintain Latino political power.

During the conversation, Martinez derides Mike Bonin, a white councilmember who is raising a Black son with his husband, as a "little bitch," and said he handles his son like an "accessory." She also described Bonin's son as a "parece changuito," or "like a monkey," and insisted that they were "raising him like a little white kid" and that he "needs a beatdown."

Martinez also mocks Oaxacans, an indigenous Mexican ethnic group from Oaxaca, calling them "little short dark people," and saying, “I don’t know what village they came [from], how they got here, but boy they’re ugly." She went on to criticize Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, saying "F—k that guy... he is with the Blacks."

The year-old conversation focused mainly on the group's frustration with maps that had been proposed by the state redistricting community. While the crude and racist comments were what made headlines, the full audio is a rare behind-the-scenes look at how various political groups try to manipulate the system to maintain power.

The story became a national scandal, with President Biden even weighing in and insisting Martinez step down. Many of her city council colleagues, including Bonin, also called for her to resign. Martinez and Herrera have resigned, but Cedillo and De León have not, although they were stripped of their committee roles. Over the weekend, hundreds of Oaxacans took to the streets in Los Angeles to protest.

The story has set off an interesting debate about racism, political power and the things politicians do and say behind closed doors. Today, we're going to examine some reactions from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left feel betrayed by the council members, and argue that it's a reminder of how widespread and intractable racism is.
  • Some call it a betrayal of the Black and indigenous communities, noting that the Latino group wields great power in Los Angeles.
  • Some Latino writers say it is a reminder that their community still has huge problems of its own to deal with.

Amir Whitaker said Los Angeles needs a reckoning with anti-Blackness more than it needs resignations.

"In the more than hourlong recording of a redistricting meeting last year, we can hear City Council members... strategizing how to draw districts that would give Latinx people more power,"  Whitaker wrote. "On the surface, it seems to be an understandable goal, because although Latinx people make up nearly half of L.A., they hold fewer than a third of the council seats. But the meeting quickly turned to ridiculing Black (including a 2-year-old), LGBTQ and Oaxacan communities. It laid bare the true colors of four of the most influential Latinx leaders in the country, whose collective power affects nearly 4 million Angelenos. They aren’t for the people, solidarity, children or diversity — not even for democracy itself.

"I’m a Black man residing in Council District 14, where de León is my representative. But de León’s words and complacency in the leaked conversation clearly indicate that he doesn’t represent my interests or my community," Whitaker said. "To think that, at one point, I had almost supported his bid for mayor this year and encouraged Afro-Latinx students to volunteer for his campaign. Now, I feel betrayed... Martinez’s comments were also dangerously divisive, putting at risk decades of coalition-building by activists of color. She referred to us as 'the Blacks' as she and her colleagues schemed about Latinx dominance in L.A. politics. Black people are merely 8% of the city’s population, compared to Latinx people at 48%. Although we have never truly been united, I also never viewed Black people as being in competition with Latinx people in L.A."

In The New York Times, Charles Blow called it a "revealing racist rant."

"It is a theory that worries me and that I have written about: that with the browning of America, white supremacy could simply be replaced by — or buffeted by — a form of 'lite' supremacy, in which fairer-skin people perpetuate a modified anti-Blackness rather than eliminating it," Blow wrote. "The racist comments revealed this week on a recording of Latino leaders in Los Angeles — three City Council members and a labor union leader — did nothing to allay those fears... what disturbs me most is the racial, ethnic tribalism of her political calculations. After all, the recording is of a meeting to discuss the city’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process. This is a meeting about power, about who can be helped — or hurt — by how districts are drawn.

"To be clear, I believe in representative distribution of political power. Los Angeles is nearly half Latino. There should be strong, unapologetic Latino political power in that city. In fact, underrepresentation is a problem that continues to plague the Latino community," Blow said. "Instead of allying with other disadvantaged groups, they diminished them. Their discussion was anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, anti-Jewish.  They were doing the work of white supremacy. And not because they see white power as one and the same as their own."

In The Los Angeles Times, Gustavo Arellano said the recording is a reminder that the worst enemy of Latino political power "is ourselves."

"Instead of taking responsibility for the underwhelming state of Latino political power, they just whined and whined about their predicament and blamed everyone else — especially Black people," Arellano said. "When you have an elected Latina official use words to describe Black people — children, no less — as changuitos ('little monkeys') and negritos ('darkies') while no one else in the room pushes back, it shows the rot, pettiness and paranoia that infests L.A.'s Latino political class. The four waded in grievance politics straight out of Sam Yorty’s City Hall.

"This wasn’t a case of your rancho libertarian cousins from Corona drunkenly mouthing off during a backyard carne asada, or small-town politics in southeast L.A. County or the San Gabriel Valley," Arellano added. "These are some of the most powerful politicians in Southern California — and some of the most prominent Latino politicos in the United States. 'Mike Bonin won’t f—ing ever say peep about Latinos. He’ll never say a f—ing word about us,' De León said. Maybe Bonin might have supported Latinos if Martinez and her cohorts tried harder to ally with him?"

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right said the story is a reminder that racism isn't as simple as the left tries to make it.
  • Some criticize the "anti-racist" movement, noting that this story is a reminder of the flawed notion that it's only white people who are racist.
  • Some argue this is the natural result of making race such a central part of politics.

In The Dispatch, Jonah Goldberg called it a "great teaching moment."

"For instance, the 'guy' who’s 'with the blacks' is an Oaxacan. So here we have three Hispanics crapping on another Hispanic for not being sufficiently on their team," Goldberg said. "The conversation segues into outright bigotry—imported from Mexico—about Oaxacans being 'short' and 'ugly' peasants... What I like about this L.A. story is that it’s a very human story. The reigning ideology of zero tolerance for racism—which I entirely support with regard to any state action and in most other realms—has a downside. It tends to homogenize groups into artificial categories. The Latinx farce is just one extreme example of how disproportionately white and upscale progressive ideologues like to divide the world into people of color and white people.

"Not only do the vast majority of Hispanic people reject the term 'Latinx' as condescending and inauthentic, even the term 'Hispanic' erases so much of the diversity of people we lump under that rubric. Mexican-American immigrants aren’t just different from Spanish, Cuban, Argentinian, or Puerto Rican immigrants (who aren’t even immigrants strictly speaking since they’re already Americans). They’re also very different from Mexican Americans who’ve been here for generations," Goldberg said. "And even there, Mexican Americans in Texas are culturally different from Mexican Americans in California. Heck, apparently some Mexican Americans in Los Angeles don’t even like Oaxacan Mexican Americans in Los Angeles."

In National Review, Nate Hochman wrote that "Charles Blow learned that non-whites can be racist, too."

"One of the oddest orthodoxies of modern 'anti-racist' doctrine is that only white people can be racist. (Or, as a Vice writer declared in October 2016, 'It’s literally impossible to be racist to a white person.')... In the summer of 2020, the New York Times reported that the Merriam-Webster dictionary was planning to update its definition of racism after an activist complained 'that white people sometimes defended their arguments by cutting and pasting the definition from the dictionary' — racism, activists argued, was not merely prejudicial attitudes toward members of another race, but 'prejudice combined with social and institutional power.' New York Times columnist Charles Blow seemed to echo a version of this line himself in 2019," Hochman wrote.

"On Wednesday, however, Blow penned a column titled 'A Revealing Racist Rant in L.A.,'... But he also argues that the Latino politicians — all Democrats — 'were doing the work of white supremacy,'" Hochman said. "It’s always somewhat amusing to watch a certain kind of anti-racist progressive reckon with the fact that various non-white groups can dislike one another, and that the way that that animosity manifests is — at least in the contemporary United States — often far more bitter and explicitly racist than white racism itself. Blow doesn’t explain how or why the anti-black racism of the Latino L.A. councilmembers is 'the work of white supremacy' — these are the kinds of things that are asserted, not argued — but then again, recognizing that ethnic conflict and tribalism exist everywhere, across time, place, and race, would be deeply inconvenient for a number of progressive premises about America and the logic of intersectionality."

In The Washington Examiner, Quin Hillyer said "let's not pretend this is just some isolated incident."

"Instead, this is exactly what happens when people look at the world through a racial lens and try slicing and dicing political power according to racial identity," Hillyer said. "When people think according to race, they speak and act according to race. And the word for thinking, speaking, and acting according to race is 'racism.' The leftists today who have made a lucrative scam of being 'anti-racist' are now pushing a form of Orwellian double-think in which to be 'colorblind' is actually to be 'racist.'

"Real anti-racism, they say, insists that race is determinative and that 'equity' demands that the races be treated differently to account for past and present 'privileges.' That approach is pernicious," Hillyer argued. "It denies our common humanity. And it leads to everlasting racial conflict about which ethnicity gets to claim how much power. The Left's obsession with racial power politics is a deadly societal pathology. To combat it, colorblindness is neither disease nor even a symptom; colorblindness is the cure."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a paying subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

  • This story should change some attitudes on the left and right.
  • Fundamentally, it is a story about political power and how it works.
  • Anyone trying to make this a simple issue with a simple narrative is misleading you.

Watching this story percolate reminds me how nimbly our two major political tribes will mold any event into the narrative they wish.

On the left, the story is simply one of more oppression. In Los Angeles, Latinos are no longer a minority, but now that they have political power (not enough, everyone on the left is sure to point out) they are acting just like white people. Demeaning other minorities behind closed doors and discussing openly the ways in which they can consolidate and advance that power. Now Black and indigenous folks don't just have to look out for white people, but also powerful Mexican-American politicians, too.

On the right, the story is seen as a reminder of how absurd the anti-racist movement is. Of course the people who talk about race all the time are actually the real racists, and isn't this all just a reminder that our obsession over race really just reinforces racial divisions? Never mind the fact this is an actual, overt instance of racism. Because it's coming from Democrats and Latinos, they say it proves their point that race deserves less attention and we should stop obsessing over it.

There are some days when I feel like the arguments around a major political debate are making my head spin and I can't tell up from down — and then there are days like today, when I feel like I'm the only one seeing things clearly.

Here's the reality of this situation, as best as I can tell.

This story does speak to the dangers of race essentialism. When everything is defined by race, when every story is seen through the lens of race, when we are conditioned to think about most or all political issues principally in the context of race first, it is not surprising at all to see politicians — even purported "allies" — operating in stark racial terms behind closed doors. Conservatives are right about this. It's not about vouching for "colorblindness" or some other mythical ideal, but it is about the reality that race essentialism reinforces race as a concept — and serves only to divide people who are otherwise politically aligned, potentially turning them against each other.

This is why some labor activists warn that performative white guilt is a good way to destroy cross-racial solidarity.

But an overt and obvious instance of racism should also not be used as some kind of proof that anti-racism is worthless and a waste of time. That requires pretzel making in your brain. In fact, the opposite should be true. This recording confirms some of the biggest fears of Black Americans, white progressives who ally themselves with anti-racism, and, yes, even Latinos: That people with political power pretending to be allies are actually closeted racists looking out for their own interests above everything else.

Martinez, for example, tweeted this in the summer of 2020: “Today we intrdcd a motion to cut funding to the LAPD, as we reset our priorities in the wake of the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & the #BlackLivesMatter call that we all support to end racism. This is just one small step. We cannot talk about change, we have to be about change.”

Behind closed doors? "F—k that guy,” she said. “He’s with the Blacks.”

Of course, as Gustavo Arellano and other Mexican-American writers have noted, this can be both shocking and yet unsurprising. White Americans are not the only ones capable of racism or bigotry, and America is still far more accepting of diversity than most other places. In my travels, I've witnessed much more overt and open anti-Blackness in Latin America than I have in the United States. This intersectional bigotry is not unique to Spanish speaking countries, either. Many predominantly Black communities have major issues with anti-gayness and transphobia. The Jewish community is rife with Islamophobia. China is littered with anti-Black and anti-Uyghur sentiments. And, apparently, Mexican-American Los Angeles city council members can also be overtly racist toward indigenous Mexicans who have lived in Los Angeles for decades. And so it goes, on and on.

Our takeaway from all of this shouldn't be that "racism is actually no big deal and anti-racism is dumb and counterproductive." Nor should it be that essentializing race and defining our issues in stark racial terms is the best way out of it.

To me, the takeaways are that — despite the lack of acknowledgement from many conservative Republicans — race is still a powerful lens through which many people see the world, often in discriminatory terms. And that — as many progressives seem unable to acknowledge — racism isn’t unique to America or white people or conservatives, but also exists among Democrats and liberals and so-called allies, even among other minorities. The main takeaway is that people with outsized political power often talk differently behind closed doors than they do in public, and that many of them are having meetings like this to scheme how to coalesce and cement their power, even at a cost to the communities they are assumed to be serving.

We don't live in a simple world. We live in a messy one. We suffer when we try to view events in binary black and white terms, if you'll excuse the expression, and then stuff those events into our tribal narratives. We suffer more when we take politicians at their word about who they are. This story was informative and revealing, yes, but it should be changing attitudes on both the left and right.

Today at 1 p.m EST...  

This afternoon, I'm joining an AllSides Instagram live to discuss Tangle, the 2022 midterms, polarization, and our attempt to produce nonpartisan news. If you want to tune in, just go to AllSides' Instagram page at 1 p.m. EST!

Your questions, answered.

Q: Why is Biden taking all this blame [on inflation]. Isn't most of the western world going through the same things we are? Biden did not send cash to England, or Italy or any other countries. So how much of his cash payments are really fueling inflation? Is this more likely a result of suppressed economies during the Covid shutdown, which is the only worldwide event to affect all countries?

— Bruce, Minneapolis, MN

Tangle: If I were the Biden administration, this is certainly an argument I'd be making — at least for some political gain. But there are some problems with it, too.

For starters, yes: Inflation is bad in Europe, too. We linked to this Financial Times piece yesterday, which included charts showing inflation rates in Germany and the United Kingdom, driven predominantly by soaring energy prices, are now higher than in the U.S. However, core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, has been significantly higher in the U.S. than in Europe.

The idea supported by many economists is that demand is driving that inflation, and demand has come from big government stimulus and rising wages. Obviously, those things are good and bad. As Noah Smith put it in June, "We had the biggest stimulus, we got the most inflation, but we also got the fastest growth."

It's also important to note that inflation in Europe is tied much more to the war in Ukraine. Europe depends on Russia for much of its energy, and that relationship is now badly strained. Before the war, inflation was rising faster in the U.S. than in Europe, and many economists believe the stimulus packages (passed under Trump and Biden) and the Fed's reluctance to raise interest rates (nothing to do with Trump or Biden) played a big role. Conservatives’ main argument is that the second Covid-19 bill passed under Biden, and his other agenda items like infrastructure and student loan forgiveness, are exacerbating the problem.

So, yes: Covid-19 played a massive role in the U.S. inflation. Inflation is happening globally. In some places it is worse than here. But the core, underlying causes of inflation are different from country to country, and there are fair reasons to put some degree of the blame on our fiscal policy.

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Under the radar.

Yesterday, a federal law first passed in 2017 went into effect, making hearing aids available to purchase over the counter in the U.S. for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. The FDA issued a rule in August that allowed adults to begin buying the aids, which will immediately be available without prescription in stores like Walgreens, CVS and Best Buy. Walgreens began selling the hearing aids in its stores for $799, compared to the $2,000 to $8,000 cost for similar prescription hearing aids. CVS has prices ranging from $199 to $999. An estimated 37.5 million Americans above the age of 18 have hearing loss and close to 30 million would benefit from the use of hearing aids. NBC has the story.


  • Over 2 million. The number of Americans who have already voted in the 2022 midterm general election.
  • ~100,000. The number of Georgians who voted on the first day of early voting yesterday.
  • ~72,000. The previous Georgia record for the first day of early voting.
  • 50 of 65. The number of competitive Congressional races where Democrats raised more money than Republicans in the 3rd quarter of 2022, according to Politico.
  • $40-$64 billion. The estimated cost of flood and wind damage to Florida residential and commercial properties due to Hurricane Ian.
  • 62%. Of U.S. residents who plan to buy or sell a home in the next year, the percentage who say they are hesitant to move to an area with climate risk.

Have a nice day.

Vaccines that target cancer could be available by the end of the decade, the husband and wife team behind BioNTech say. Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, the German couple who founded BioNTech and partnered with Pfizer to make the mRNA Covid vaccine, said they have made breakthroughs that fuel their optimism for cancer vaccines in the coming years. The couple believes the mRNA technology could be repurposed to attack cancer cells instead of invading viruses like Covid-19. The Guardian has the story on their plans and how they expect it to work.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.