The city of Bell and its officials’ salaries; selling gold; Oliver Stone’s latest project

Fighting fires

Re “Winds hamper fire battle,” July 31

TV reporters seemed surprised when the Crown fire jumped the California Aqueduct and moved toward Palmdale last week.

No one should be surprised when a brush or forest fire makes a run across a supposed natural or man-made barrier; these fires create their own firestorm.

In 1961, one of L.A. County’s worst fires, the Bel-Air fire, moved west from Stone Canyon. Observers noted that the fire would be stopped when it reached the four-lane Sepulveda Boulevard and the eight-lane San Diego Freeway.

The fire jumped these barriers and moved on to Brentwood.

Cliff Dektar

Valley Village

On the Bell money trail

Re “Bell property tax burden second highest in county,” July 30

From the beginning there was always the nagging question of where the money had come from to pay those outlandish salaries. Well, now we have our answer — from the beleaguered homeowners of Bell.

This puts the lie to those apologists who claimed that city administrator Robert Rizzo was worth being paid more than the president of the United States because he was so good at his job. Please.

Those fat cats in Bell perpetrated an outrageous fraud on their constituents, all while they shamelessly cut funding for police and other community services. Surely there are laws against such egregious conduct that can spare future taxpayers from having to pay for those huge and fraudulently acquired pensions.

Ron Hardcastle

Los Angeles

Re “Cities flee from Bell’s shadow,” July 29

Against the backdrop of moral turpitude and unmitigated greed emanating from the city of Bell, it was indeed gratifying to read that the city managers of Signal Hill, Santa Fe Springs, Redondo Beach and the entire city staff of Bellflower reduced their pay or declined merit bonuses in these financially difficult times.

These individuals put the people of their cities first and did the right thing. They deserve more recognition than just a few lines at the end of an article about the mess in Bell.

Tamra Nelson

Sherman Oaks

Re “Pension crisis rings a Bell,” Column, Aug. 1

That Steve Lopez and pension reform activist Marcia Fritz paint heroic firefighters and police officers with the same brush as the greedy Bell officials speaks volumes about their selfishness and cowardice. Would they be willing to run into flames to save victims, or stand in the face of a gun-wielding murderer to save others? And how about the medical personnel who routinely perform lifesaving procedures and deal with the grossest of human situations? Don’t any of these people deserve a decent living when they are unable to work anymore?

As for the average age of firefighters and law enforcement personnel retiring, many of these people are damaged both physically and psychologically by what they’ve done and seen. Would any one of their critics be able to handle what they’ve endured?

If I had my way, all those who put their lives on the line (and those they’ve left behind) would have a blank check for their living expenses — just as a poor thanks for giving their all.

Let the heroes who have paid into the system with their own money and blood keep their earned pensions.

Julie T. Byers


Caught up in gold fever

Re “Is gold firm using fear as sales tactic?,” Column, July 30

Although the dangers discussed in David Lazarus’ column concerning the questionable sales tactics of companies such as Goldline International and Superior Gold Group are real, it would be nice to do a serious write-up on the other side of the issue: the protection afforded by “real money” products such as gold and silver.

They certainly have a place in the world we live in.

Mark Soderberg

Lake Elsinore

Lazarus fails to mention that until recent years, the price of gold was stagnant, with few buyers. Today many financial advisers recommend that portfolios have a percentage of their investment in gold or gold stocks.

With billions lost in the recent Wall Street crash and stocks tumbling — yet gold reaching historic highs — is it any wonder gold is a hot commodity?

Morrie Markoff

Silver Lake

When art and history collide

Re “The Oliver Stone danger,” Opinion, July 30

Rabbi Abraham Cooper may be right to be concerned about Oliver Stone’s “contextualization” of Hitler and Stalin. However, his statement that “Americans have been taught to confront evil, not ‘contextualize’ it” sounds frighteningly close to the aim of propaganda.

If Hollywood trusted audiences and created films with context, perhaps we would understand with greater depth the horrors of World War II instead of being force-fed such offensive and shallow offerings as " Inglourious Basterds.”

By contrast, Europe has been producing excellent, nuanced and accurate films about World War II’s horrors ever since 1948’s “The Last Stage,” directed by Auschwitz survivor Wanda Jakubowska. Filmed at Auschwitz with a cast of former prisoners wearing camp uniforms still stained with blood, it is authentic in a way that American films — even “Schindler’s List” — can never be. Other films worth noting here are Larisa Shepitko’s “The Ascent,” Elim Klimov’s “Come and See” and Andrzej Wajda’s “Landscape after Battle.”

John Bertram

Los Angeles

Cooper’s implicit desire to stop the airing of Stone’s “Secret History of America” reminds me of the 1933 book burnings in Nazi Germany.

Although I believe that the Holocaust remains one of the darkest moments in human history, looking back at this event in a broader context does not diminish its significance or the lessons learned from it.

The Nazis did not want the Germans to be “contaminated” by works by Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka and others. The rabbi will repeat this mistake if he advocates censorship of art and literature that don’t align with his narrow view.

Rey Tuazon

South Pasadena

IRS Free File: An Aug. 4 letter from Intuit stated that 70% of California taxpayers would be able to prepare their taxes free of charge under the IRS’ Free File program. Although 70% of taxpayers nationally can prepare their taxes free of charge through the program, in California it would cover 66% of taxpayers, based on 2008 data. —

The view from Intuit

Re “Intuit’s end-run,” July 21

The headline on the online version of Dennis Ventry’s opinion piece got it right: “Intuit just won’t quit.” After that, Ventry’s logic gets it wrong.

For years, Intuit has worked to bring a free state tax preparation program to Californians as a participant in IRS Free File, a partnership between the Internal Revenue Service and private-sector tax software companies. Twenty-one states already allow taxpayers to file state and federal returns through this program.

Free File does things California’s program on its own cannot. It would:

Lower tax bills by helping taxpayers find every credit and deduction they deserve.

Reach more low-income taxpayers. Seventy percent of Californians qualify for Free File; just 44% qualify under the state’s program.

Make filing simpler. Free File completes both state and federal returns. The state’s program forces Californians to do their taxes twice.

Free File, because it completes federal forms, not just state forms, also helps eligible Californians to obtain their share of the $1.2 billion federal Earned Income Tax Credit that is unclaimed in California. The state systems, on their own, won’t.

That’s why we won’t quit working on behalf of Californians.

Dan Maurer

San Diego

The writer is a senior vice president at Intuit Inc.