Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pedro's Corner: Spanish Train Crash

Regarding the July 31 L.A. Times article on the Spanish train crash.  The driver was talking on the phone at the time.  So What?  Why wasn’t there a computer controlled speed limiter in charge of maximum speeds allowable (regardless of human intervention or non-intervention) overriding maximum speed for every inch of track.  That’s only 6.336 million inches (points of information) per 100 miles of track.  Such a job is well within the memory capabilities of the cheapest desktop computer.

What the article didn’t say about such a control device is that the management of the railroad hadn’t installed such an irrevocable guardian of public safety and, thus, blames the driver of the train.  As usual, when projects are not regulated and monitored, management proceeds unthinkingly and incautiously on the job.  I maintain that the irresponsible party in this tragedy is the railroad management and not the driver.  Just another case of blaming the worker while the boss get off Scott Free.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Patricia O. Baker puts my Chase credit card "On Hold"

Dear Patricia,

I am in receipt of your letter dated July 13, 2013 requesting that I provide your bank with Form SSA-89 as well as a W-9 form.

You say you need these forms because you wish to "confirm that we have your correct Social Security number." That makes sense. It is totally appropriate that you maintain accurate information.

Your letter states that you need this information by 8/1/13. I am happy to provide my correct social security number, but why did you put my credit card on hold on the same day you mailed me this letter?

I put a call into Chase's Customer Data Accuracy Program and spoke with Jean. She said that my card was put on hold in error but that only the Card Lending Department could fix the error, and they are closed on the weekend. Who in your Card Lending Department flagged my account and placed it on hold? Clearly they made a mistake. Can you offer them retraining so this doesn't happen again?

Also, why do you need a W-9 from me? Are you hiring me for a position at your company? If so, what is the salary and benefits? As far as I understand it, your company provides me with a credit card. Am I missing something?

I find it disappointing that your company makes this mistake, and then is unwilling or unable to fix that mistake in a timely manner. It's interactions like these that give meaning to the term "Big Banks" and help explain why your industry is looked upon with so little approval. I can't help but feel that I am little more than a revenue source to your company.

I wish I could trust Chase with my financial needs but someone in your company won't allow that to happen.


The Engaged Observer

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pedro's Corner: Submarine Court Trapped on Dry Land

Today, my dad has something to say about the Supreme Court's decision striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Take it away Pedro!

The Supreme Court has now decided that because of changed and improved conditions in our country, that certain guarantees regarding management of voting rights in certain states should be removed.  One could therefore say that laws against crime should be repealed because of a significant drop in crime, a drop that was brought about by these very same crime laws.  The national understanding is that a single crime is sufficiently repellant to justify these laws and single crimes we will always have.  We still enforce laws against fraud because we know that some citizens will turn to fraud feeling they can avoid the consequences by craft.

The voting rights laws were enacted because some citizens have a racial hatred and will act on it.  They struggle to prevent their so-called inferiors from voting.  They will never change and will never stop imparting the hatred to their offspring.  Therefore it behooves us to keep such laws intact, as a form of regulating fair behavior and maintaining public trust in government.  What would be the highest number of unfair, racial incidents permissible (NONE) and how can we predict when such incidents would stop for all time (NEVER)?  This is why we have all sorts of laws punishing, regulating and watching for even a single crime.

A civilized government serves to protect and serve its citizens as a majority decides.  Violence and threats by one person or group against another person or group have no place here.  The government must have the power and the wisdom to squelch violent force along with the MIGHT MAKES RIGHT mentality.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pedro's Corner: Edward Snowden

Pedro de Cordoba, Jr.

The saying goes that when you look at life through the eyes of a child, that's when you truly live. While that may be true, I find that the opposite works just as well. These days people seem to forget that our elders know a thing or two. Born in the late 1920s, my dad has a wealth of life experience that gives him a unique perspective on the issues of the day. He always has a point of view, whether it's about religion or the gait of an overweight man walking down the street. It delights me to hear him express what's on his mind, as I never know what he'll say, but it will always be unfiltered and usually in the form of a joke.

After hearing a recent eloquent diatribe on some subject that currently escapes me, I said to him, "Dad, you need a blog to post these op-eds floating inside your brain." He said I should post them for him. So here's his very first post, where he takes on the subject of national secrecy, our right to privacy, and governmental accountability. Take it away Dad!

 I would like to view this matter from a position very high above, because it all seems so trivial.  The three agencies, (NSA, CIA, FBI) known to be secretive against each other, proceed on their comically bungling Kafkaesque course, SOMETIMES defending the nation against terrorists.  From their self-appointed, altitudinous perch, they rant against one who (as a likely mental exercise) punctured their giant sack of secrets, found them most unpalatable and cast them off to someone else.  In so doing, he PROVIDED THE TRANSPARENCY-IN-GOVERNMENT promised us by the current President.  No doubt Congress is scrambling to find a relevant infraction to apply.  Perhaps the three agencies are considering a water-boarding session or the correctly sized unmanned aircraft to wreak vengeance, beware collateral damage!  Could this be a case of A SYSTEM HAS TO FAIL IN ORDER TO IMPROVE? 


Monday, April 15, 2013

CicLAvia This Sunday! Rent my bikes on Spinlister

I've been playing with a site called Spinlister, which lets people rent out their bikes. For this sunday's CicLAvia, I'll have 3 bikes you can rent, including a STRiDA LT. 

What is Spinlister?
Spinlister is a marketplace that lets you find the best bikes to rent online, whether from individuals or existing bike rental shops. Just type where you’d like to ride and Spinlister gives you the best bike rental options for that location. We connect you with awesome people and great bikes from around the world. If you’d like to list your bike, just snap a few pictures and share your sweet chariot with awesome people like you. We help you meet up, exchange the bike, and have a great experience, whether you’re the renter or the lister.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who Should Be The Next Mayor Of Los Angeles?

Dude! The Los Angeles City Elections are less than a week away! Have you been getting physically spammed like I have? Just yesterday, 18 mailers were waiting for me in my mailbox. It's a very strange campaign so far. There's attack ads but I'm hardly noticing them. Are you? All I know is that one of these mayoral candidates will do a better job for more Angelenos than the rest.

My tried and true strategy of picking the candidate who ISN'T endorsed by major political machines is leading me to vote for Tommy Carcetti! No wait... Eric Garcetti! Not that I know a lot about him. I will say he apparently reads my tweets and responds to them on occasion.

Which I think is really cool of him. Sometimes he doesn't respond at all, like the time I called out LAFD for what I believe is a pattern of over responding to medical emergencies with excessive personell and equipment not suited to the task. Probably a wise choice Eric. Not that it helped. Wendy Greuel was endorsed by the Firefighters' Union.

But I still think a batallion of paramedics on dual sport motos could serve the medical emergencies of L.A. faster and cheaper than ladder trucks and big bright red 1989 Suburbans. And it would be really cool.

Anyways, I have so many gripes with the leaders of the City of Los Angeles. But some of things that really get to me are wasteful bureaucracies that traumatize the populace, the way Metro ignores public safety and resident quality of life in service of traffic and gridlock and also the blatant giving away of our public spaces.

For example, Supersize Billboards and Electronic Billboards somehow sneaked their way into the city with no one the wiser. Then we wake up and it's all Blade Runner?? WTF? If you bother to follow the money it's not pretty. I don't know what role Eric may have played in this, except he was a member of the city council when this all went down, and continues to go down, nor do I know what he might do about it should he get elected...

Sorry I stressed you out Eric. But those billboards really rub me the wrong way. I'm waiting for BanBillboardBlight.Org to write back with their endorsements for the upcoming election.

So who should YOU vote for? That's your personal choice, and I hope you choose to decide. You'll be one of the few who can complain about this town since you did your part to make it better. As for me, I was lucky enough that a friend turned me on to a city hall insider that I do trust. She seems to know what's really going on behind the scenes and somehow manages to write a handy election cheatsheet without getting transferred to cleaning horse stables in Griffith Park. Without further ado, behold

Michelle’s Awesome LA Voter Guide

March 5, 2013

Heyo! And we’re back. Have you received like a billion political mailers in your mailbox in the past two weeks?  Then you live in LA and we have a big ‘ole election coming up next week on Tuesday, March 5th. To be clear, next week are the primaries and the general election is May 21st. What does that mean? For example, there are many candidates running to be Mayor of LA. Next week, your votes will determine the top two contenders. There will be a brief period where you will receive many more mailers, people knocking at your door at dinnertime and a barrage of commercials, and then you’ll return to the polls on May 21st to determine the winner. The same goes for those City Council districts that have a large candidate pool.   On to the more important question you may be asking yourself: Why should I give a shit about this election? There are eight City Council seats open, an election to select a City Attorney, City Controller, multiple LAUSD School Board seats, the LA Community College Board of Trustees, a ballot measure and of course, a Mayoral contest. Essentially, there are some big decisions to be made and by not paying attention to these seemingly unimportant elections could result in a crappy person representing your district. You don’t want that.  As you know, this voter guide has become somewhat of a tradition and who am I to ruin Christmas. People will disagree with me. To that end, I encourage you to do your own research. Also, this voter guide will not be weighing in on the school board races (though, I like Monica Garcia in district 2) nor the LA Community College Board of Trustee races (also I favor Tom Oliver for District 6). There are a lot of publications out there with endorsement slates such as the LA Times, Downtown News, LA Sentinel, etc. Do some comparisons and determine which candidate appeals to you.  Lastly, this guide took me forever to do.  I actually finished the damn thing last night and my computer crashed causing me to lose half the data, arg!!! If you do pass it on, give me props and feel free to forward the guide, post on facebook, link to twitter, et al.  
Sincerely,Michelle Garakian

Mayor: Eric GarcettiFor those that know me, I’ve been hyping this dude since 2006. I’ve worked in or adjacent to city government for a long time and during this time, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Eric Garcetti and his office on a variety of exciting and bold policies for the City of LA. During his six year tenure as City Councilor and President of the City Council, he’s championed funding for the Affordable Housing to help folks gain access to more workforce housing in LA and spearheaded various environmental initiatives from the largest Green Building ordinance in the nation to recently help pass the largest urban solar program in the nation, the Solar Feed-in Tariff.
These are some of the big picture things I can point to, but everyday he is working tirelessly to improve the quality of life for Angelenos by working to create more parks in the city, or after school programs in his district or limit gang activity or create more municipal oversight such as working on needed pension reform. He’s also created more access to City Government by empowering members of his community through leadership programs and local neighborhood councils. As a business advocate, he’s working towards eliminating bureaucracy around permitting and building in the city as well as attempting to eliminate gross receipts taxes for local businesses. All and all, he gets shit done and the LA Times thinks so too because they endorsed him for Mayor. He’s also got the endorsement of Sierra Club and National Organization for Women (NOW), which is telling with two women in the race.

This city is a unique period in its existence. Communities are becoming revitalized and walkable. Biking and public transportation are prioritized and used. We’re brimming with cutting edge art and exciting events that bring people together and unite communities around good causes. It’s really exciting to live here because things are happening very organically. We need a mayor who is an innovative and intellectual thinker; someone who can harness all this goodness and capitalize on it. We all see the change, but in order to keep the momentum, we need to ensure we’re moving in the right direction. There are some excellent candidates in the race to become LA’s next Mayor, but only Eric Garcetti is poised to lead the way forward.

 City Controller:  IndifferentThe City Controller has the ability to identify waste fraud and abuse and audit a department but has little authority to follow up. In fact, the Council moved to implement a rate payer advocate which undermined the position of the controller but also showed how sometimes totally irrelevant this position is. I guess it’s good to have a controller for the city however it really depends on the personality. Laura Chick was feared and admired because she handled business and put everybody on blast. None of the candidates in this race has inspired me to take a position. The LA Times and others endorse Ron Galprin and lots of unions support Dennis Zine.  Galprin seems better than the two to me but eh...
 City Attorney: Mike FeuerThis is a total no brainer. Prior to entering into public office, Mike Feuer ran Bet Tzedek Legal Services, one of the nation's most highly regarded providers of legal services to the poor. He served as City Councilor of LA many years ago and has most recently finished a stint as a State Assemblymember where he has championed transportation, public safety and environmental policies. He’s tough, smart and a great negotiator, just the person LA needs to navigate the tough waters ahead. I’ve had the pleasure of working with his office for many years and it has continually been a rewarding experience to work with an elected official who remains dedicated, humble and has the tenacity to get the job done without sacrificing his integrity.

Los Angeles City Council. Oh, you don’t know what district you are in? Go here put your address in the Neighborhood Resources line and voila, all the info you need at your disposal.

CD 1: Jose GardeaOk. This is my council district and I’m pretty hyped on this race because it’ll directly impact my neighborhood. Gardea has acted as chief of staff to City Councilmember Ed Reyes for many years. He has first-hand knowledge of this district from helping constituents balance communities through improved housing, transportation infrastructure, increased public safety and more green space. Both Gardea and Reyes have a great reputation in City Council on smart planning and environmental measures like revitalizing the LA River to a world class recreation area.  Cedillo may have the support of everybody and his mother but I don’t see any community support for him and that is very telling. Lastly and most importantly to me and my neighborhood,  Gardea has firmly come out against the Barlow Hospital Development in Elysian Park which would put almost 900 units of housing in Elysian Park with no plan for parking or transportation options. It’s gross to even consider this large of a project in one of the city’s most amazing urban parks. Gardea is the best guy for CD 1.

CD 3: Bob BlumenfieldThis one is also a no brainer. Bob Blumenfield was Chief of Staff for the well respected though recently defeated Congressmember Howard Berman. Together, they represented this part of the valley with much aplomb. Blumenfield decided to step out and run for CA Assembly and he did a terrific job focusing on budget cutting in Sacramento. As a long time environmentalist he will be good for this usually conservative district which balks at any environmental overtures. He’s supported by the LA Times and the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters. He’s your man if you live in this district.  

CD 5: Paul KoretzKoretz is a good guy on the city council. In all my dealings with his office since the beginning of his tenure, he has revealed himself an honest broker with the best intentions of the city and his district. He vehemently supports and advocates for animal welfare issues and environmental policies and initiatives. He enjoys a lot of city wide support from business, labor, community and press, etc. 
 CD 7: Felipe Fuentes, I guessI’m not really jazzed on this guy but nobody else of substance is running in this district.
 CD 9: Staying out of this race till after the primariesThere are like a million people running in this race. I’m going to stand by and let the voters determine who should be in the run off then make a decision. Though, I am leaning towards Dave Roberts. He was just recently endorsed by the LA Times and I’m sure will get a lot more love after the primaries.
 CD 11: Mike BoninMike Bonin is a good successor to popular City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl. He’s been a chief aide to Rosendahl for almost 8 years and knows this district like a baby knows its mom. He cares a lot about the environment, hence the Sierra Club endorsement, and works hard to ensure that district concerns are being addressed in detail. I have enjoyed working with him and his office over the course of my career and know he would do right by the residents and businesses of his district.
 CD 13: Matt SzaboLike CD 9 there are A LOT of folks running to represent this district. I mean A LOT. If you live in this district, I can’t imagine the amount of mailers you are getting in one day, probably enough to reconstitute a redwood in your backyard. There are a lot of great candidates running in this race, from Mitch O’Farrell to Josh Post to Emile Mack to Alex DeCampo and John Choi. All have certain traits and qualities that would make a good councilmember but I think Matt Szabo is head and shoulders above them all. For the past eight years, Matt has been the braintrust at City Hall. He has mediated and negotiated some of the most pressing issues this city has faced. He has been paramount to the effort to reach the city’s renewable goals by 2020. He has spearheaded important public safety and affordable housing initiatives and worked towards syncing the city’s traffic lights. He’s a strong, behind-the-scenes player with a reputation for being both respected and feared. Most importantly he is incredibly tenacious. If he says he is going to do something, it will happen and then some. And trust me, this comes in handy when advocating for your district. Garcetti has worked tireless to make this district terrific but we need to continue the momentum. Matt has the clout and know how to bring real and lasting changes to CD 13 like expanding transit opportunities and creating more open space while keeping a keen focus on the little things that make this district great.
  CD 15: Joe BuscainoJoe is a good guy. He was just elected in a special election last year when long time Councilwoman Janice Hahn moved on to the US Congress. Since being elected in an underdog race, he’s really picked up the ropes. Further, he’s exercised a nice degree of independence which is always refreshing.  He needs a bit more time to grow into this position.
  Prop A:  Half cent sales tax increase- Hmmmm…So this one is really a toughie. The organization that I work for is supporting it because it does not put the tax burden on business alone and it will maintain standards of public safety that have helped keep crime rates low in the city. However, the breadth of mayoral and council candidates opposes this. Though, it may be due to political jockeying rather than true intent, given that said candidates would have a huge budget monkey off their back when they assume public office if this measure passes. There are two issues at hand: One is that most of the city revenue goes towards public safety, approximately 70% I think, so with looming deficits in the next two years, there will be a major impact to the LAPD and LAFD and cuts to needed repairs and maintenance. Two, is the issue of union negotiations. The LA Times states it better than I, “A related problem with the timing of Proposition A is that the generous 2007 contracts with public employee unions expire next year, setting up a crucial round of negotiations. As Santana's budget projections show, the city's labor costs — particularly its obligations on pensions and retiree healthcare — are likely to cause deficits even if voters raise the sales tax; the shortfalls two, three and four years from now are expected to be up to 50% larger than the one in the coming year. By filling the short-term hole in the city budget, a tax hike now would dim the prospects of city leaders seeking, let alone winning, the concessions from unions on pay and benefits that the city badly needs for the long term.” In a nutshell, this proposition is a half-assed short term solution that will barely put the city in the black for fewer than two years, then we’re back to larger deficits. Unless we deal intelligently with pension reform, we’ll continue to face this problem. I will most likely vote no on this issue but you may value the quality of public safety in this city and see this measure as a way to stave off machete-sized cuts.