Let Us Now Yell at the Uber Driver

Yes, we're listening...
Yes, we’re listening…

My Uber is now an analyst’s couch.

He’s taking away people’s rights based on skin color and gender he won’t let scientists speak the truth he’s pushing Indians off their land and spoiling their drinking water China wants to blow us up because he’s so cra-a-a-z-ee. 

Well, said I, striking a therapeutic note…we’re stuck with him for four years…

No we’re not!

How are we not stuck with him?

We’re going to get rid of him! 

How are we doing that?

He’ll be forced out he’ll be impeached or someone will kill him before the end of the year. 

Nothing in her tone suggested she would not be rooting for the killers.

Trump had been in office six days.

I’d like to think people have calmed down over the past month, but I would be wrong.   There are now living among us a critical mass of citizens grasping for an amplifier knob which goes to 11.

People really want to talk back to their television set, even when they agree with it.  People really want to go back in a time machine to Nov. 7.  In lieu of that, they have me.

Which is worse for democracy, having an election in which no one goes to the polls, or having an election in which half the country refuses to accept the result?  Civility is the sum of sacrifices we make to live together.  But what if we inhabit the same geography but live in entirely different mental spaces, with little shared cultural language, to the point we begin to ‘un-see’ those who cross our path in the same city?  What if technology does not liberate us but enclose each of us in his own seedpod? Or as a rider I picked up in Beverly Glen grandly put it:  “America is the golden triangle, New York, LA and Miami. The rest of the country is Topeka, Kansas, enough said.”

When the Twitter Meme Narrative in our head:  Tyrant! #Resist! Don’t Normalize! displaces facts, facts have no meaning.  I am a noble person, say the Resisters, the proof of this is I oppose Trump.  Therefore Trump must be the perfect villain. If people are angry now, how angry will people be when he fails to be the tyrant they need?

Hating all things Trump is a full-time job.  How can one keep up?  Will the media exhaust everyone, including the Trump haters? Who will fold their hand first?  The liberals or the leftists? Will it infiltrate everything, including beer?

America, we got our ear buds in.

Hope is not a plan

No kidding
No kidding

Just as a thought experiment, substitute the word neighbors for in-laws as you consider this bus shelter PSA which sprouted across the Valley this week. For it is a peculiar moment in which we have placed ourselves, as a nation.  There are now fewer people working and paying into the system than not. Next year, there will be fewer still. Fully one third of able-bodied working age Americans are unemployed and living to a large degree a life subsidized by the state. Or to put it another way, by their neighbors.  Except we usually don’t think of it in those terms. No one really says ‘I’m gonna walk across the street and ask John if I can borrow a cup of sugar and this month’s rent. I’m gonna go next door to Alice and ask her for groceries and this month’s 401K deposit.’  And yet….what are we doing, but precisely that?  In a rational policy marketplace we could have come to a reckoning with our obligations and adjusted accordingly.  Instead, we keep borrowing 40 cents on the dollar to postpone the inevitable for another year. Which is to say, we print money, i.e., sell Treasury bonds. And who has to pay the bonds off?  Maybe us, maybe our neighbor’s children. Maybe his children’s children, not yet born.   We have passed agreements paying out to retirees in public pensions far in excess of what was paid in. We know this, yet we cannot summon the political will to make even modest curtailments of benefits for the survival of the system.  Even in the face of municipal bankruptcy we don’t do it, at least not in California. There’s a phrase for this. It’s called eating the seed corn.

This is not the Chinese way. The Chinese are working. They are saving. They are buying the bonds our grandchildren will be working to pay off.  They are coming to our schools and dominating our STEM programs. Then they are taking what they learn and selling it back to us at a profit. Meanwhile, an unhealthy percentage of Americans are sitting at home watching TV and listening to appeals from personal injury lawyers and sucker bait payday/car title lenders, the subtext being you can painlessly obtain something for nothing.  The conventional wisdom, particularly here in California, is deficits don’t matter. They can be rolled over indefinitely, or failing that, if push comes to shove and we really, really need to get serious, we can always reach deeper into the Magic Money Bucket that is Apple, Google and Facebook, and grab even more than we already are.  As though these companies were a permanent extractable resource, like coal. Fifteen years ago, Apple was staving off liquidation. Google was not even a listed stock. Mark Zuckerberg was in high school.  Microsoft and AOL were the dominant players, and look where they are now.  No one in a world of Deep Think tome-wielders and stock pickers predicted what happened.  Literally, no one.   To hang the future of California on three new media companies when no one knows what the next 15 years will bring, is to cleave to hope. And hope is not a plan.

Lazy wheelchair people

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This is a phenomenon which bothers me more than it should, but what is up with people who are neither paraplegic nor elderly trundling about in electric wheelchairs?  I’m not talking about a conveyance of necessity, but the making  of the world an extension of one’s living room.  A barcalounger with a motor, commandeering the sidewalk and the aisles at Costco, so an entirely ambulatory person can be spared the injustice of standing on his own feet.   These chairs are not cheap, yet the state gives them out like communion wafers to those willing to fill out the paperwork. Or more predictably, who hire an advocate to file claims on their behalf.  Yes, some of these people might be fat, but by no means so obese they need to be extracted from their bedroom by a fire crew with the jaws of life.  They can walk.  They choose not to.  They park in the handicap spot at Target and berate the management for only providing three motorized shopping carts per store, when there are clearly four marked handicap spots. They threaten neighbors with litigation because of uneven sidewalks, then get out of their chairs and carry them over the broken pavement.  When the battery expires during an outing, they phone their children and have them push them home in flip-flops. Meanwhile, there are amputee combat veterans in this city competing in triathlons on artificial limbs, without complaint.   The vets know once you sit down, you don’t get back up.  What does it mean to sit down when you’re 40?  Or 30?  What does it mean when an entire sub-segment of the public decides to sit down, literally or figuratively. and the state underwrites this behavior with subsidy? Do people really think America can pay its bills by making disability more profitable than work? Tell me how this movie ends.

90% of life is showing up

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For the past ten days the eastern San Fernando Valley became, overnight,  a swing county in Ohio in a presidential election.  Which is to say, we were under the full siege of the Cindy-Nury political telenovela: door knockers, door hangers, mailers, phone calls, yard signs, tweets and texts.  Amidst this cacophony of the democratic process I received a knock on the door from my neighbor Walter, a Montanez volunteer.  Would I like to meet Cindy? ‘She’s gonna be in the neighborhood’ today. Of course I would. He promised to bring her by ‘sometime after 4pm.’  We put some wine in the fridge to chill, cracked open the hummus, and called my friend Andy Hurvitz, of the HereinVanNuys blog. ‘Cindy Montanez is dropping by. You want to meet her?’  Certainly. At 4pm, there the three of us were, glasses of rose in hand, snack bowls on the credenza, cameras and questions at the ready….

Giles and Andy, being patient
Giles and Andy, being patient

4:30 rolls around, no Cindy.  I check in with Walter. ‘It’ll be another hour or so. She’s still at the office.’  The hour goes by, the bottle of wine empties out.   We begin to fool around with cameras. I fire up the grill.  I call a second time for an ETA.  ‘Andy is here’, I offer as an inducement, ‘and he’s ready to blog.’ ‘Let me get back to you.’  Ten minutes later he calls back with regrets. ‘Cindy won’t be able to make it tonight.’  We wander out into the evening air and take snaps along the Metrolink tracks.  We happened upon this lovely couple on the Bridge of Sighs, who were happy to pose:

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Three days later, returning from yoga, I get another message from Walter. Please call.  Cindy will be back in the neighborhood tonight. I’ll bring her by. When? Six to seven-ish.  Andy returns.  A bottle of gewürztraminer and garlic crackers are laid out. More hummus.  Seven o’clock, no Cindy. Eight o’clock, no Cindy.  Now, the drill here is pretty simple. The candidate knocks. We exchange pleasantries. She declines the wine, but takes a cracker.  Looks us in the eye and lies to us about how she’s going to clean up Sepulveda Blvd. Everyone shakes hands and she goes on her way. Five minutes and it’s done. She gets a promotional photo from Andy and maybe some good copy.  Of course we both have fever dreams of beautification schemes we want to pitch, and maybe after a long day, the gewürztraminer might bribe some additional face time with the candidate…..but only if the candidate shows up. On the her hand, if she chooses not to come, for a second time…..by 8:30, we’re in the car, heading to Angel City Brewery for a flight of IPA and then to Wurstkuche for some exotic sausage.  Downtown east of Alameda, an area not long ago as run-down as the east Valley is today, was positively en fuego with nightlife, cuisine, commerce.  Joyful young and not-so young people out and about, enjoying t-shirt weather after midnight.  Quite another city,  yet entirely within my own.  Up in the valley, we’re still working on the basics, like awnings for bus stops and getting the police to arrest hookers plying the trade in broad daylight in front of schoolchildren:

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Driving home to our colonial outpost in the Valley, I was in a bad humor. Mrs. Upinthevalley took a more generous view. It’s the middle of an election. Walter was simply over-promising.  Perhaps. But he wasn’t inventing. Cindy knew who we were and she knew we were waiting, and she….made other priorities.   An avalanche of mailers and five more canvassers would hit our house in the final days, including three on Tuesday afternoon, in a scrambling panic as the poll watchers reported the grim news: people weren’t showing up to vote.  Her margin of defeat would turn out to be smaller than the combined traffic of our two blogs.  Enough said.

Cindy spent in excess of $100 a vote.  Her signs and foot soldiers were ubiquitous in Van Nuys. Cindy herself was a no-show.  Nury Martinez walked Sun Valley and Arleta door-to-door, in person. As Woody Allen put it: ‘90% of life is showing up’.   In politics apparently, there’s no substitute for shaking someone’s hand and bullshitting them.

The future of CD 6?
The future of CD 6?

The silly season is upon us, again

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Suppose you’re a candidate for city council, and have no real campaign to speak of. No power base. No constituency. Your chief competitors are two lavishly funded hack politicians from rival political clans, who inundate the district with glossy mailers.  They hold the minimum two debates required for matching funds and use them to exclude other candidates, then take the money and spend it on more mailers.  If you were crafty, and just a little unethical, you might come up with a yard sign which graphically mimics the signs for the leading mayoral candidate: similar font, same color scheme;  then place your signs adjacent to his. Like you had his endorsement. Or were running mates of some kind.  Since a narrow majority are likely to vote for  Eric Garcetti on Tuesday, perhaps a portion will make some limbic brain connection to you, some word association established on the commute home on Roscoe Blvd.  Perhaps you might scare up enough votes to move from a third-tier candidate to a second-tier one in a seven person race. Then you might have something to trade in the run-off in June.  A patronage appointment. A staff job for an endorsement.  Cause you sure aren’t looking to win this thing.

The Passion of Dan Stroncak

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It’s difficult not to like Dan Stroncak.   Aggrieved homeowner.   Crusader against street prostitution and unlicensed pot shops. On Saturday he brought his kamikaze run for City Council to Fatburger on Roscoe Blvd, for a meet-and-greet.   His heart bled for the Valley. He worked himself into outrage at the petty tyrannies and corruption of the city bureaucracy. If elected, he vowed to camp out at the Building Department personally to see to it permits in his district were expedited.  He was the earnest, young Willie Stark in All The Kings Men, before he got wised up.  The irony being Willie was an unwitting tool of the party establishment, hand-picked to divide the hick vote and keep the incumbent in power, and Dan is quite the other thing.  He’s running against a pair of machine-backed Latinas who moved into Los Angeles within the past year, solely to succeed Tony Cardenas in District 6, and who have been biding their time serving on state boards collecting six figure salaries for once-a month meetings.  They have campaign money. He does not.

Like I said, it’s hard not to like the guy.   He speaks without the platitudes and banal catchphrases one is used to from the mayoral candidates.  There’s only one problem. He’s not actually on the ballot.   Five hundred signatures are required for ballot placement. Of the 600 he submitted,  one hundred and four were rejected by election officials as having signatures not matching addresses on voter records.  So he’s four short of qualifying.  Make of that what you will.   He asks folks to write his name in.

**UPDATE** Dan demurred at my characterization of him as an ‘angry man’:

“I see myself more as a worried father, frustrated homeowner, and when I’m out on neighborhood watch it’s as the “guardian at the gate” if you will because in my area the drug and prostitution traffic is heavy after 2am unless someone is out there with a flashlight and camera getting the license plates numbers, which is what the police dept recommends we do because it deters them, at least until I go back in then it starts again. 
 “The best case scenario is for the police to have the resources they need to take care of the crime without community help, but right now they are actually reaching out to neighborhoods looking for more people to get involved with neighborhood watch because times are tough when you consider the budget cuts and increased crime due to AB109 (realignment).  That said, we all need to be vigilant in our own communities.  The perfect example of the out of control crime (and how dangerous it is) is the fact that the Fatburger is across the street from the alley where the security guard was murdered a week ago.
“Finally, the only thing I would ask you to add (if possible) is that while I do truly want people to vote for me via writing in my name on their absentee ballots in the next couple of weeks or in May, I personally consider this a two year campaign.  The partial term filled by this special election is over in 2015 so candidates for the 2015 race can file this August and start campaigning.  I will most definitely be in the race and ON the ballot in 2015.”

Derek Waleko is running for CD 6

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Old school retail politics came to the Home Depot parking lot Saturday in the form of an RV ‘listening tour’.    As I happened to be there to pick up concrete blocks, I took full advantage to express a pet peeve: the blighted, weedy embankments of the Sepulveda/Metrolink undercrossing.  For the price of a few sprinklers, we c0uld recover the long dormant ivy that once covered it in full, and in doing so remove a public eyesore. For a few dollars more we could chip up the asphault median and landscape it with trees.  He listened.  Said it was a great idea.  Then he offered to ask the Van Nuys council for funds.  Granted, he’s running for office, but for those of us who lived through the ‘ we don’t do constituency service’ ethos of the Tony Cardenas era, this was an unexpected and refreshing change.

Dept. of WTF

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Los Angeles is ‘broke’. Meaning, despite an annual revenue stream well into the billions, it has managed to spend well beyond these billions and is, like the state of California, perpetually in deficit.  One asks for a bike path to be built, or a particularly blighted median or embankment to be landscaped, and one is told these are extravagances. There is no money for anything beyond essential services.  Downscaling expectations, one asks for nuisance crimes to be enforced, for tagging to be removed in a timely manner and the request goes unanswered.  The pothole on your block deepens with each rainstorm, till the day you go to Home Depot, buy bags of asphault patch and fill it in yourself.

And yet….somehow there is always money for a) salaries and pensions found nowhere in the private sector; b) luxury junkets to various locales by public officials; c) an endless slush fund for shakedown settlements to city employees suing the city; and d) vanity projects.    For example, the Woodman Avenue Multi-Beneficial Stormwater Capture Pilot Project.  And what might this be?

For several blocks,  cisterns will be embedded beneath the median to absorb the rain run-off,  letting it percolate back into the water table beneath the valley floor, rather than sluice past, all the way to Long Beach.  Duly captured, this .0001% of the valley’s rainwater would then be available, theoretically, for pumping to some unbuilt reservoir, at some unnamed future date our water needs require. And when was the last time we pumped water out of the valley floor?  1913.  A century ago.  The Sierra snowmelt and William Mulholland’s great swindle have served the Valley in good stead ever since.

As a bonus, there will be benches and trees placed atop the median, in case one might have an idle hour with a book and wish to spend it stranded between six lanes of commuter and two lanes of residential traffic, or engage in shouted conversation with a neighbor.  Hence, the ‘multi’ in beneficial.

Total price tag: $3.39 million.

No member of the public asked for this. Nobody.  How did this particular Potemkin village come to be?   In the usual fashion: one government agency (DWP) petitioned another (State Water Board) for the money, and they passed the costs along to the rest of us. In 2009.  The depths of the recession. In what would prove to be five straight years of double-digit unemployment. A period so fiscally dire, Sacramento imposed the largest sales/gas/car tax package in state history,  $1100 per family, employed or not.  Simply had to, you understand. Services cut to the bone.  Bond rating in danger.  Anything less would be irresponsible.

Now you know where your money went.