fbpx

GELFAND’S WORLD--When the history of 2015 is finally on the shelf, politics will be among its central stories. In the long run, controlling global warming is more important because survival depends on it, but politics is of immediate interest because it has become a battle over freedom, health, and economic growth. The Republicans concentrate on freedom from taxation, while they demand the power to limit the religious freedom of others. Democrats are less concerned about lowering taxes, and more concerned about holding onto reproductive choice. There's definitely a clash of civilizations, and it's right here at home. 

This year has been fairly predictable on the Democratic side. There is the possible exception of the Bernie Sanders story, but I predict that Sanders will finish pretty much where he is right now, with an honorable second place finish. I could be wrong on that. Bernie's public apology to Hillary and to his own supporters over the Democratic National Committee files is indicative of somebody who feels more comfortable telling the truth than relying on comfortable white lies. There is a certain resemblance to the Obama candidacy in this. It's the sort of virtue that appeals to a lot of voters. But Sanders is carrying three decades more of life than Obama was at the same point, and I think this will be the issue that Sanders can't defeat. 

The story of 2015 will be recorded on the Republican side for how bizarre it has become. I offer my own humble interpretation of what has been going on. It's a spin on my interpretation of the 2004 election, a view that went entirely contrary to Republican crowing, and also to the Democratic crying and sobbing. But this interpretation fits the puzzle pieces together better than other interpretations I find. 

The 2004 election involved a legitimate war hero in the form of John Kerry, running against the fairly inadequate George W Bush. When the dust cleared, and Bush was the victor, Democrats figuratively wandered the desert in confusion. They bought into the explanation that Bush had won on family values and all that stuff. God, Guns, and Gays is how the left wing described the Republican approach. Democrats talked in whispers about trying to slice off a larger percent of the evangelical voters. It wasn't obvious how Democratic Party values and policies were supposed to accomplish that, but people like Marc Cooper saw through the futility of that approach. 

My view was that the American people were more than willing to engage in bloody vengeance against the entire ethnic group they saw as guilty of the September 11 attack. They just didn't want to have to look into the mirror and admit to themselves that they were willing to countenance mass killing. But deep down, they knew they could trust George W Bush to be the bad guy they needed, and they could rationalize it all by telling themselves that they were really supporting Christian values. 

No wonder the Democrats were confused. 

Now we have a situation that is not all that different. There is actually an eerie similarity to 2004. When it comes to the Republican primary battle, those Iowa saints sure do love their sinners. At least that's the interpretation you have to adopt if you want to explain the Trump story. Here's a guy who is profane and doesn't believe in that love thy neighbor stuff, particularly when the neighbors are standing alongside him on the debate stage, or are the inhabitants of an adjacent country. I don't think we've heard this level of spiteful contempt since the days of George Wallace. 

Of course there is also Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas who has taken the role of the religious obsessive. The Republican voters are split between a New York bad boy acting out the juvenile delinquent role, and the senator who plays at being the holiest of all. Holiness is running second in most of the country. 

What's running first is fear and anger. When Tea Party voters, now Trump supporters, explain that they want to take their country back, you have to ask, "From whom?" The answer, I think, has become pretty clear. They mean that they want to take it back from the people who aren't exactly like them. 

A change of subject: LA is still an NFL-free zone 

The year 2015 has been notable for the discussions about bringing either one or two professional football teams to the area. Luckily, the possibility of a stadium at the intersection of the 10 and the 110 freeways died a quiet death. This was not for lack of bowing and scraping by the city's elected officials. They were willing to turn downtown into an even worse traffic nightmare than it is now. This was in spite of the weight of evidence that shows that professional sports teams don't bring in net revenue or jobs to the areas they move into. 

As of now, NFL owners in Oakland, St Louis, and San Diego are talking about moving to Los Angeles. Predictably, the elected officials in these towns are bending over backwards to try to keep their teams. 

St Louis just voted to spend $150 million of its taxpayers' money to build a new football stadium for the once-Cleveland Rams, who then became the Los Angeles Rams, and more recently became the St Louis Rams. The real dollar total would be a lot more, since the proposal would involve state money and forgiveness of local taxes. The whole ugly story is summarized neatly by USA Today

As the story explains, "In addition to the city's $150 million and $300 million from the league, the St. Louis stadium proposal calls for $250 million from the team owner, $160 million in fan seat licenses, and the rest of the money from the state, either through tax credits or bonds." Notice that curious item about fan seat licenses. A seat license is the fee you have to pay to be allowed to pay for tickets. 

For many years, NFL owners have been using the existence of Los Angeles to extract money from cities and states in order to build stadiums. It still seems to be working, as recent events in Minnesota and now Missouri demonstrate. The question is whether the NFL has more to gain by putting a team in Los Angeles than it has to gain by retaining the status quo. 

Keeping L.A. free of professional football provides economic benefits to the majority of NFL owners. As new stadiums grow older, the local NFL owners will want to extract money from their cities to build even grander structures. The owner of a team playing in a stadium that 15 years old will be thinking about getting a new one in another 10 or 15 years. 

Don't believe it? Check out the age of the stadium that the Rams say isn't good enough, or read this paragraph from that USA Today article: "But there was plenty of opposition. Alderwoman Sharon Tyus recalled it was just 24 years ago when the same governmental body approved financing to build the now-outdated Edward Jones Dome, the Rams' current home." 

On the other hand, there could be economic incentives to moving a team or two into the basin. There are television revenues to be multiplied, or so it is said. This is a curious claim because Angelenos watch plenty of pro football on television already. It's not obvious that having a local team would bring in that many more viewers. This would be especially true if the team isn't winning. There would, however, be a whole new round of football jersey sales. 

Will the possibility of spectacular new traffic jams in the L.A. area on game days depend on the possibility of shirt sales? We'll get a better idea after the NFL owners meet in January.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)  

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

NO BABES IN TOYLAND-Every Christmas sees one toy emerge as the most-wanted, gotta have gift — remember Tickle Me Elmo, and Beanie Babies from years past? Well, 2015’s big hit has emerged: The Iraq-Syria LEGO Playset. (Quick note: The set retails for $3 trillion. Weapons of mass destruction not included.)

The set retails for three trillion dollars, though the price may have doubled by the time this is published. Included in the standard set are enough LEGOS to build replicas of Mosul and Fallujah, allowing a child to refight those battles over and over. Figures include Sunni militias, Islamic State fighters, Shia militias, one figure representing the actual Iraqi Army, American special forces with and without boots, Iranians, Kurds, Turks, Russians, Syrians (moderate and radical, though they cannot be told apart), British, French and Italian troops, shady Saudi financiers and Hezbollah soldiers.

The basic set also includes a starter pack of refugee figures, though most people will want to opt for the bonus pack, if only to get access to the limited edition dead children refugee figures.

Not included: any weapons of mass destruction.

While the Iraq-Syria LEGO Playset will provide any child with decades of fun, even more adventures can be played out by buying the Turkish Expansion Pack.

And parents, please note: Even after careful construction with the best of intention, the playset tends to simply fall apart.

(Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog, We Meant Well.  His new book is We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

(The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books).  Image: Screenshot/Youtube. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

MY TURN--When Councilman Felipe Fuentes (District 7) evicted tenants in the North Valley City Hall, he included a police substation as well as the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council in his purge.  Even though a hue and cry was raised by his constituents and this writer; we were told that he had every right to do that.  Apparently, who occupies city property is under the purview of the Councilmember in that district. 

It opened a Pandora's Box.  There are 96 Neighborhood Councils (NC's) in the City of Los Angeles.  They receive a budget of $37,500 annually.  This must cover their events, flyers and administration.  Some pay half their funds in administrative costs ... others don't have an office and parcel out administrative duties and records to their Board of Directors.  In keeping with the LA Charter, NC's are supposed to be independent of City government, even though they are a city agency.  There is no template on how they are to spend their budget allocation.  

The question was raised by the Los Angeles Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (LAANC): if the NC's were part of the City why couldn't they utilize the vacant space owned by the City and also receive a dollar a year lease as some of the other non-agency organizations were paying.  This way their budget would be better spent on their stakeholders. 

Sounds simple, no?  Board of Neighborhood Commissioners ( BONC) member Lydia Grant brought it before her Commission and it was approved to send to the City Attorney for the correct legalese.  It is supposed to have the legal approval next week.  Then the Rules, Neighborhood Committee can act on it or send it directly to the City Council. 

In doing some research on this situation I discovered that the NC Budget Advocates had been requesting a list of LA City owned real estate and vacant land for at least four years.  After all, it is considered assets and they were charged with advising on the Mayor's annual budget.  At the last Budget Advocates meeting, Matt Szabo from the Mayor's office told the assembled group that such a list did NOT exist and that it would take approximately a year to put one together. 

I found this hard to believe.  I would assume that these assets would amount to millions if not billions of dollars.  In the last couple of weeks the City Council passed a resolution ordering the Banks owning what are called nuisance vacant foreclosures to release them. The City would fix them up and take the cost out of the proceeds when they get sold. 

So if the City Council is giving the Banks these instructions ... how about knowing what real estate inventory is in the City portfolio? 

When it comes to City money I go to our financial guru Controller Ron Galperin.  Not only is he one of the most knowledgeable when it comes to City finances but also the most transparent.  Turns out he shares my frustration and bewilderment.  The Controller's office oversees money going out ... they don't have jurisdiction on the money coming in like rents, property sales etc. 

According to Controller Galperin, "The Controller's Office has been working very hard to compile a list of City-owned properties.  Unfortunately, because the lists we've been provided  by General Services Department (GSD) are inaccurate and/or outdated and/or incomplete, we've often had to go to other resources to build our database. 

For example, we have sought property records from the County Assessor's office. Unfortunately, the Assessor's information doesn't tell us the whole story.  For instance some property listed as belonging to the City might belong to the DWP. 

Nevertheless, we are determined to build this list--and to publish it on our open data site. What's more, we are determined to build a detailed list that tells us which City agency owns the property and how it is being utilized. These properties belong to the City of Los Angeles and the people who live here. All Angelenos have every right to know what properties their City owns and how they are being used. 

I went to GSD looking for some answers.  Asset Management comes under their jurisdiction, along with a bunch of other categories.  I found their website to be somewhat of a fairy tale or to be kind...wishful thinking.  The following is what they profess to do.

 

MISSION STATEMENT 

 The Real Estate Division's mission is to ensure optimal use of all Council-controlled City owned vacant and improved properties and maximize the value of each of these assets. The City relies heavily on the expertise of Real Estate Division in the following areas:  acquisitions, appraisals, sales, relocations, leasing, title research, negotiations, property management, energy conservation, and Real Estate Division is committed to providing exemplary services to its customers. 

ACCURACY: Every Real Estate Division employee will be committed to maintaining and developing accurate information on its real estate portfolio. 

TEAMWORK: Real Estate Division is committed to collaboratively working together within division and other City departments. Since all of our work is so intricately woven together, it is imperative that we are all collegial and cooperative in the performance of City work. 

It continues to describe its work 

The City of Los Angeles owns and leases real property worth billions of dollars used for diverse public purposes such as office buildings, police stations, fire stations, libraries, public parks, open space, roads and maintenance facilities. Asset Management division negotiates the purchase or lease properties for the City, and annually reviews the capitalization of owned and leased properties to identify refinancing or lease renegotiation opportunities. Also, develops and operates projects jointly with other governments and the private sector to accomplish the real estate needs of the City. 

It sure sounds good.  Terry Gomes, Budget Advocate Co-Chair and LANNC president, had issued a Public Records Act (PRA) request more than a year ago for the list touted in their Mission Statement.  These requests are supposed to be answered in 60 days.  Follow up has not produced anything! 

Mayor Eric Garcetti prides himself on his administration being at the vanguard of technology and transparency.  I sent requests for information to the two people in the Mayor's office who were aware of this situation and Deputy Mayor Barbara Romero.  I also sent a few questions to GSD General Manager Tony Royster.   Surprise ... Surprise. Not one response.  Obviously, having this exposed to our hundreds of thousands of influential readers is not important. 

WE are facing a homeless crisis.   Some of the open land owned by the City would be viable for people who live in their cars or recreational vehicles, to have a place to park aside from the street.  Some of the vacant public facilities could house many of the homeless since the allocation of monies set aside by the City Council isn't sufficient to take care of our needs. 

Not knowing, and if there is such a list not distributing it to other City agencies, is disgraceful! The Mayor just completed his annual review of his General Managers.  I'd love to see the report on GSD. 

I will close with one last quote from the GSD website 

Real Estate Division will be the City's resident expert for all real estate issues. Real Estate Division will implement the highest level of customer service and efficiency and is committed to providing detailed review and analysis of existing facilities and sites. Real Estate Division will also be the leader, in providing real estate advice to the Mayor, City Council, City departments and the general public for city owned property. Finally, Real Estate Division will continue to maximize financial and programmatic needs of all city owned properties

And … a quote from my own personal ‘department of public opinion’: Balder Dash! 

As always comments welcome …

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 102

Pub: Dec 18, 2015

POLITICS--If the 2016 U.S. presidential election were held today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would win by a landslide over GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, according to a new poll just released by Quinnipiac University.  

With voters favoring Sanders over Trump 51 to 38 percent, Sanders would win the general election by 13 points—more than any other candidate would get squaring off with the Republican favorite, including Sanders' chief rival for the Democratic nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, while Clinton would likewise sail to victory over Trump, her lead would be approximately half as much, with voters favoring her 47 to 40 percent.

Columnist Brent Budowsky writes for The Hill:

If this margin held in a general election, Democrats would almost certainly regain control of the United States Senate and very possibly the House of Representatives.

It is high time and long overdue for television networks such as CNN to end their obsession with Trump and report the all-important fact that in most polls, both Hillary Clinton and Sanders would defeat Trump by landslide margins.

[....] It is noteworthy that in this Quinnipiac poll, Sanders runs so much stronger than Clinton against Trump.

Meanwhile, Budowsky says, "analysts would be talking about a national political realignment and new progressive era in American history if an enlightened candidate such as Sanders would defeat a retrograde race-baiting candidate such as Trump by a potentially epic and historic margin."

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams where this report was posted earlier.)

-cw

 

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

 

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW--When Starbucks introduced this year’s minimalist holiday cup, Arizona evangelist Josh Feuerstein charged Starbucks with “removing Christmas from the cups because they hate Jesus.” His criticisms created some buzz on social media and Donald Trump even suggested a boycott. 

Can the meaning of Christmas be found in the icons represented on Starbucks cups of the past? Since Starbucks introduced the holiday tradition, images have included cartoon carolers and skaters, reindeer-like animals, pine trees, and ornaments, none of which have a particularly religious theme. 

Religious leaders and authors have been discussing the meaning of Christmas for centuries. Charles Dickens, described by London’s Sunday Telegraph (December 18, 1988) as “The Man Who Invented Christmas” certainly had his own ideas about the holiday. 

Certainly, A Christmas Carol has become a mainstay of the holiday. At the time Dickens was writing the novella, the British were examining traditions of the past along with new traditions like Christmas cards, trees, and the newfound popularity of caroling. 

Dickens’ idea to write the holiday classic had more to do with his dismay about the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the plight of poor children than on holiday traditions, per se. When Dickens was just 12, his father had been imprisoned, forcing the young Dickens to move to nearby lodgings. He sold his books and stopped attending school so he could work in a factory. 

As a reporter, Dickens visited Cornish tin mines that were employing child labor around the same time the Parliament had prepared a report on the effects of the Industrial Revolution on impoverished children. Dickens tossed aside his idea of writing a political pamphlet in favor of penning a Christmas novella that had the potential to reach a much wider readership to address the concerns of poverty and social injustice. 

Dickens’ estimation was on target. Long past his death, he continues to touch readers with his tale of Ebenezer Scrooge visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley, as well as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. The ghosts all point out to Scrooge that the meaning of Christmas can be found in “goodwill and cheer.” 

To Dickens, Christmas was a time for families “bound together all our home…enjoyments, affections, and hopes.” In the broader sense, he was warning about the love of money over family and people. Scrooge, through his ways, was left lonely and unhappy until he was brought into the family of Tiny Tim, his employee’s son, where he learned that helping others was a path to improve his own life. 

What is the meaning of Christmas?  Most of us, whether we celebrate in the religious sense or not, have some memories and traditions, whether that means listening to Christmas music, watching “Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” baking special cookies, or exchanging gifts with colleagues and friends. 

Yes, Christmas does celebrate the birth of Jesus for those who practice Christianity. A red cup, with or without iconic Christmas images, can be interpreted however you would like. As a Jew, I have always cherished that Christmas seems to bring out a sense of community and a chance to reflect at the year’s end. 

No matter what Christmas means to us individually, we can hopefully take a cue from Dickens to remember the true gift is of ourselves, not in scoring a Hoverboard scooter or iPhone 6S. Perhaps Christmas can bring the chance to decide how we will help others, whether in our personal lives or a more global sense.

 

-CW 

 

GELFAND’S WORLD--This being the antepenultimate column of 2015 for me, it seems appropriate to tell the story of a friend of mine who had to deal with corporate America. But this wasn't the usual corporate screw job by a credit card company or by a cell phone company. This was a combination screw job by both a credit card company and a cell phone company together, in one and the same incident. 

There are two reasons to tell this story in these, the final weeks of the year. First, it is illustrative of what our society is becoming, what with the big corporations turning us all into unpaid clerks, and customer service becoming customer disservice. The other reason is that I get to use the word antepenultimate in a published piece. You don't get to do that very often, much less twice in the same place. 

So here is Rod's story. 

He got a credit card statement a few days ago. There was a charge for $118 for his Sprint cell phone service. Only one problem -- he doesn't use Sprint. The charge was completely bogus. 

It wasn't even identity theft. He didn't have dozens of other charges for expensive luggage or diamond rings. It was just this one charge. So Rod did what any normal American would do. He called the number on the back of his credit card and explained. He told them that he doesn't have an account with Sprint. Therefore, they shouldn't be charging him for Sprint service. 

"You'll have to call Sprint" he was told. He again explained that he doesn't have an account with Sprint, but he was politely told to bug off. Apparently, this was the best that the voice on the other end of the line could do for him. So he called Sprint. 

"You need to talk to your credit card company." It seemed that Sprint did not have any record of his account, which isn't terribly surprising since he doesn't have an account with Sprint. Apparently, the Sprint clerk didn't have an icon on his computer screen labeled non-customers who don't have accounts with us but just got billed $118 anyway, and now they're mad

Rod politely explained that the credit card company had just given him the exact same advice except in reverse. This attempt was, as they say in the novellas, to no avail. 

There's a reason we call it the runaround. You end up running in a giant circle from one customer service desk to the other, and then back again, ad nauseum. The more common form of runaround is within the offices of a single corporation. You get sent from billing to customer relations to billing, and so on. But in this case, Rod was getting carommed between two separate corporations. 

I'm happy to report that in this holiday season, I have a happy ending to this story. Mind you, it took Rod another 3 hours of his life to achieve that level of happiness, but he did get there. Here's how. 

Rod is what I would call a particularly assertive sort of fellow. You may remember when books on assertiveness were all the rage. Many people bought them, but few seem to have absorbed the lessons. Rod didn't need to buy a book on assertiveness training. He seems to have been born with it. 

Rod simply gave up on the 800 number folks and found the number for the cell phone corporate headquarters. It's actually not all that hard to do. Corporate telephone numbers are not state secrets. Mind you, the clerk on the other end of the 800 number will usually refuse to give you the number of corporate. You will get some lame excuse that the poor clerk just doesn't have that number. Feel free to say that you don't believe him, but don't belabor the point. 

Just go online and look for the corporate website. Find a telephone number on it. You could try calling the public relations number, as they will always call back eventually. There's also a number called investor relations. I don't exactly know what they do, but it sounds like they would be the type to call back. Usually you can just call the corporate headquarters and ask to be connected to the office of the president. 

You won't get direct access to the CEO, but some nice person will answer, and you can explain your problem. That person will generally turf you to the person who can do you some good. So Rod got corporate, and explained that Sprint had billed his credit card number for service he doesn't have. 

Corporate figured out what was wrong. It's actually a little outrageous, if not exactly astonishing. Sprint, as in so many other companies, allows the customer to call in to pay a bill. But Sprint doesn't want to waste money paying clerks to take those payments. Instead, the computer on the other end of the line has voice recognition software. It asks you questions, and you give it answers. 

Sometimes the voice recognition software understands your reply correctly. 

In Rod's case, it did not. Somebody else called into Sprint's system, gave it a credit card number, and Sprint dutifully charged Rod for the service. Rod inferred from his conversation with Sprint that the voice recognition system had simply misunderstood somebody's speech. It happens from time to time. 

We can also imagine a different possibility, that this somebody was trying to pay a bill by using a credit card number that was not his own. But this sounds a little farfetched. Why engage in credit card fraud when you can simply avoid paying the bill? 

Whatever the glitch was, Rod had gotten billed that $118. And here is the crux of the matter. When Rod got charged that amount for something he never purchased, the burden should have been on the credit card company. Or at the very least, the dispute should have been between the credit card company and Sprint. The two giant corporations should have determined who owed what and to whom, rather than expecting Rod to fix their mistakes. 

The burden should never fall on Rod, since it was not his purchase. Yes, it is up to Rod to inform the credit card company that there has been an incorrect charge, but that should have been the end of it for him. The clerk at the credit card company should have been able to see that Rod did not have Sprint service at anytime up to this particular billing. and should have remedied Rod's problem on the spot. Then Sprint could have resolved its billing error as it saw fit, perhaps by contacting its actual customer. 

Because neither clerk could solve Rod's problem, or because they labored under rules that prevented solving Rod's problem, Rod was forced to go to the corporate offices at Sprint. 

By going to corporate, Rod got his credit card charge reversed immediately. His credit card company showed the reversal of the charge within the hour. All is right with the world, and Rod was only out the 3 hours of calling that it took him. 

Here's the take-home lesson: Give that guy on the other end of the 800 number his one chance to fix your problem, but don't accept getting the runaround. Escalate the problem sooner rather than later, and thereby get hold of somebody who has the authority to fix your problem. One reminder -- if you are connected to the 800 number and getting the usual runaround, asking for the supervisor usually isn't the effective form of escalation. Even if you get a supervisor, whatever that might be, you are still dealing with somebody who doesn't have the authority to fix your problem. 

A very short story 

Here's another example: One woman I heard from was trying to sign up for health insurance using the Covered California system. The insurance company mistakenly applied her December 2015 payment to January, 2016, and then told her that she didn't have insurance for December. A series of clerks on 2 or 3 continents promised her that the problem would be fixed in 5-7 days. Three weeks later, still no joy on the December insurance. A call to the office of the Insurance Commissioner of California sped things up remarkably. 

The overall strategy

Mind you, I am not suggesting going right to the top every time you have a corporate version of the sniffles. Some things really are just the sniffles, and not pneumonia. But when the clerks don't deliver, it's time to go to corporate. 

Notice that we, the consumers, didn't create the system where we have to be so demanding. But in this modern era, corporations save money by getting rid of the local staff, and then you are supposed to try to fix your problems by calling that 800 number. What you get are boiler room staff who are reading off of a prepared script. When I run into that, I say, "Excuse me, but could you please stop reading the script for a moment so I can explain the problem." Once in a while it works. 

One last story 

It was a while back, probably a couple of decades, but I still remember how a corporate screw job turned into a source of humor. 

One day, I got a letter in the mail from a new toll road authority down in Orange County. I was vaguely aware that Orange County had OK'd a toll road running parallel to the 5, but that was about all I knew. Nevertheless, this letter said that I had been driving on their toll road without paying, and now I was being assessed the fee and a fine. 

This was all a little strange, because I could state with certainty that I had not been anywhere near Orange County on the day of the alleged violation. I had not even been into Orange County within several weeks of that day, either before or after. 

But this toll road authority letter explained that they had a photograph of my car on their road. They had some automated system that took photos of cars that didn't use their system of payment, whatever it was at the time. 

That story about the photo was peculiar in the same way as Rod's more recent story. In each case, corporations expected us to jump through their hoops. I called the company and asked them to send me a copy of the photo. After all, if I am being charged with something, I have a right to see the evidence. The person on the other end of the line seemed a little surprised, but promised to get back to me. 

A day later, I got a return phone call. The toll road representative sheepishly explained to me that the license plate in the photo had been read incorrectly. My citation would be erased. 

I remained a little dissatisfied, because in my experience, what some clerk promises over the phone doesn't always come to fruition. Suppose some other office in the toll road authority didn't get the memo, and sent me another dunning letter? So I asked that they send me a copy of the photo for my files, so that I would be able to demonstrate by actual evidence that my car was not on their road at that time. 

You can probably guess what the answer was. They refused to send me a copy of the photo. They claimed that this would violate the privacy of the driver of the other car. That was an inadequate answer, to say the least. The photo was a necessary part of my defense if I ever needed to defend myself. You might even call the toll road's argument stupid. But I never did get that picture for my files. 

Dealing with this new digital age 

There are all sorts of issues with regard to this digital era and the control it has over us. Rod's run-in with the credit card company and the cellular phone system is illustrative. The phone company couldn't be bothered to put adequate safeguards in place to protect the integrity of its billing system. The credit card company left it to Rod to fix the mess, even though the credit card company could have done a simple charge-back to Sprint and left it to Sprint to sort things out. 

A new threat to our privacy 

The following is a bit of a change of subject, but bear with me. There's one more device that will potentially be a new threat to our privacy. It's the drone. If you haven't seen one up close, come down to the harbor, where we see them almost every day. Drones can be barely the size of your hand, or they can be a little bigger. You can buy them in a drone store (I didn't make this up) or from Best Buy. And the drones have look-down capabilities that give the creep on the next block the same sort of ability to violate your privacy that we once attributed to the NSA. 

By coincidence, drones are not only dangers to our privacy, they are dangers to civil aviation and the aircraft that fight brush fires. For this reason, the FAA is now about to adopt a rule that drones need to be registered. There will also be an age requirement for such registration. I don't think that this will solve the privacy issue, but it's a start. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net. Note: Rod is the pseudonym for a real person.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 102

Pub: Dec 18, 2015

More Articles ...

agario https://agar.team