Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tinker Tailor

I remember watching part of this back when it was a miniseries on Masterpiece Theatre.

I am curious to see if it lives up to the original (even though I know, I should still read the book, bad Angrybell).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Delta - We Love Our Money More Than Our Principles

Maybe you have heard that word came out today that Delta Airlines has entered into a code sharing partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines. As part of this deal, if you are Jewish, have Jewish-sounding name, or have any sort of religious items which are offensive to Islam (meaning anything not Islamic) then you won't be allowed to on those shared flights. The original article was here. But now apparently US Today has pulled it down and replaced it with this.)

Now, Delta is saying, throught its blog,

First and foremost, I think one of the most important things to mention here is that Delta does not discriminate nor do we condone discrimination against anyone in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender.
They don't discriminate. They just partners with airlines who do. 

That said, some have raised questions about whether Saudi Arabian Airlines’ membership in SkyTeam means Delta is adopting any type of policies that could present barriers to travel for some passengers, including Jewish customers. For this particular concern, it’s important to realize that visa requirements to enter any country are dictated by that nation’s government, not the airlines, and they apply to anyone entering the country regardless of whether it’s by plane, bus or train.
We, like all international airlines, are required to comply with all applicable laws governing entry into every country we serve. You as passengers are responsible for obtaining the necessary travel documents, such as visas and certification of required vaccinations, and we’re responsible for making sure that you have the proper documentation before you board.

This is a bunch of bullshit. I try not use profanity too much, but there is nothing else to call it. This is a company scrambling to cover it ass and say that its really not their fault that they are going to participate in discrimination

Delta has a choice of who it does business with.  Its not this little issue of Saudi Arabian Airlines' discreThey chose to get into bed with Saudi Arabian Airlines. Saudi Arabia Airlines does not just fly to Saudi Arabia. They fly all over Arab world and the world in general. What happens when your code share flight turns out to be a Saudi flight that goes through another city? That's right. Get ready to experience dhiminitude.

Yet Delta chose to partner with them. No one forced them. They just decided that it was more important to make an extra few bucks than have any principles.

Remember who you giving your money to the next you look fly somewhere. Do you want to give it to someone who discriminates? If you do, Delta will happily partner with someone who does.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Seriously, What Is Wrong With Attorneys These Days

What is the problem with lawyers these days? It seems like so many of the attorneys I deal with are being disingenuous when they say they want to resolve a matter. Why? Because if I start trying to work out a solution the same refrain comes back every time: Why don't we wait until mediation?

That is perhaps the most assinine thing. Unless of course you enjoy spending your client's money for a mediators time, as well as the attorneys time. 

What is the problem with trying to get the ball rolling so that when it does come to mediation, if it must, that instead of trying to bridge a huge chasm at $400 dollars an hour, its just the last 3 outs of the game? 

I understand that in some cases, the sides are so far apart that only a mediator may be able to get one or both of the sides to make the compromises necessary to get a settlement done. However, it feels like an excuse they use to avoid having to do work. This way, instead of the attorney being responsible for a settlement, at least in the eyes of an attorney's client, they can place all the blame when buyers remorse comes on the fact that it was really brokered by the mediator and the client signed off on it. Have we as lawyers really gotten that bad? Or that lazy?

ADR was originally billed as the cost-effective way to end cases prior to trial. However, instead of doing that, they've become mini-trials, even when its mediation and not arbitration. Think I'm wrong? Take a look at the mediation brief that gets submitted. More often then not, its not just a little road map so that the arbitrator gets an idea of whats going on. Rather they are essentially trial briefs, previewing the case down to the last bit of evidence. Sure, it supposedly gets all the cards on the table. However, if you have an attorney who is not walking malpractice, then they should have already brought the bad cards to the client's attention. 

ADR has its place. However, lawyers have become over-reliant on the mediators to accomplish the job. This is bad for both the attorney, and even more so, for the clients who have to pay the mediator's salary. And lets face it, they all don't look like Kate.

So next time, why not talk to your opposing party first. Whats the worst that can happen? You go the meidator later and drop a few grand of your client's money there. But at least you took a stab at being an attorney and not just someone who spends other people's money needlessly.

We fund this organization

Why then do we allow it to go after Israel at the behest of Iran, Egypt, Bahrain, Venezuela, and other countries where human rights violations routinely happen? Why do we not insist that the people who use tanks, guns, and abductions cloaked as police actions to be held accountable?

Because apparently its much easier to go after the liberal democracy than a repressive regime.

What do the California Legislators and Nathaniel Ford Have In Common?

They're both receiving more money than they should for failing. At least Nathaniel Ford will soon be gone, happily depositing his $384,000 severance package (equal to approximately a year plus benefits). I guess its better than paying him nearly $700,000 to wait until his contract expires. Heaven only what kind of a mess he could have turned the system into with what he claims are his "leadership" and a "management" abilities.

On the other hand, we're stuck with the legislators in Sacramento for few more years. And unfortunately, we the voters are too stupid to choose people, from either party, with actual ability and a desire to serve rather than ones who just want a cush job where they can enjoy the graft from the special interests groups.

Whats brought about this? Have you seen the budget they produced in order to meet the June 15 deadline? The Democratic leadership, in fear of the impending June 15 deadline, forced through a budget that Governor Brown characterized as full of spending gimmicks, accounting skulduggery, and cuts to programs. No reform of the budget. No hard choices made. Just whatever was easiest got cut so they could produce a budget.

So Governor Brown vetoed it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one who wants to see taxes raised, which is where I differ with the governor. But I do want to see a real budget put together. Not one that is easy to pass but does not fix the problems which we here in California are facing.

Both parties share in the blame for this mess that is occurring. The Dems for being irresponsible about the budget they rammed through, as well as their failure to seriously discuss reforming the spending that goes on here in the state (pensions anyone?) and the Republicans for not compromising on certain (but not all) issues.

Apparently when we passed that referendum last year, requiring them to pass a budget, we all missed that part in the fine print. The budget only has to pass the Legislature. There is no requirement that it be signed into law by the governor. That was a mistake. Maybe we ought to correct that at the next possible time. It might be too late for November, but how about we make it clear: no one in the legislature or the Governor's office gets paid if the work they're required to do isn't finished.

So enjoy your ill gotten gains. One of these karma will catch up with you. One can only hope its at Mr. Ford's next job interviews and the legislators next election.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hopefully, the MTA Will Take This Task Seriously...

But what I wanted to say was: Mr. Ford, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Good riddance to bad trash. The only problem is, it seems that the MTA is not upset with him. To my mind that means they're going to get another appeaser rather than a doer as the next head of Muni. And that is exactly not what this city or this system needs right now.

Sadly, it looks like the powers that be down at Civic Center want to keep the job in house. The SFGate is suggesting that the inside track is being held by Friends of the Mayor, or happened to be Ford's chief deputy (Ed Reiskin or Carl Rohan, respectively). This does not instill me with confidence.

Anyone who wants to call Nathaniel Ford's term in office a success needs to consider one thing: there was a voter revolt because things had gotten so bad on his watch. When the voters have to go to the ballot box to force Muni to put its house in order, that is a clear sign of failure.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Epic Failures By MTA and Local 250-A

I am starting to wonder if the Muni Operator union is taking advice from the Yasser Arrafat diplomacy playbook. In case you don't know, it was once summed up by Abba Eban as "Never missing a chance to miss a chance." Luckily for them, they were saved from themselves today by an arbitrator.

How were they saved from themselves?

Well, after voting down the unbelievably outrageous deal that Mr. Ford and the MTA offered them, it was sent to binding arbitration. The arbitrator, who coincidentally brokered the deal in the first place, ordered it in effect. Carol Vendrillo, in her decision, wrote "It is the opinion of the mediator/arbitrator that the terms of the (proposed contract) on the disputed issues represent the best resolution of these protracted labor negotiations and are in the best interests of both the parties and the riding public[.]"

Now, I am going to confess to a bit of bias here. I do not think that Ms. Vendrillo should have been the arbitrator. Ms. Vendrillo has an impressive number of years working in this type of situation. However, she was the neutral that helped broker the deal. In my experience, I've found that after a while, this makes them favor the deal that they help author. This could be lead to some bias if they are later called upon, as she was in this instance, to pass judgment on the deal she brokered.

How did Muni employees miss a chance?

Let's start with how Local 250-A, the Muni Operators union described the proposed deal. On their website, they stated,

In collective bargaining this year, MTA sought to reduce our total compensation by nearly 20% through numerous threatened changes to our MOU.  With your support and strength, we were able to negotiate a Tentative Agreement under which you lose no wages, no premiums, no allowances and no benefits.  Moreover, under the Tentative Agreement your monthly healthcare costs will substantially decrease, and MTA will continue to pickup the 7.5% employee pension contribution.  We were also able to eliminate the absenteeism policy (Bulletin 10-039) which MTA unilaterally imposed last year, increase report time, and obtain a grievance process that ends in binding arbitration like all other City employees have. 

Now for those who have not been following the Muni saga here in the city, the MTA, surprisingly, tried to get tough on absenteesim last year.  They had the radical notion that if you are calling in sick, then you need a sick note. Despite the fact that this reduced absenteeism, one of the leading causes of why Muni was spending so much on overtime (because of the scheduling rules in the agreement which has expired) on drivers. Yet, this "radicial" policy has been eliminated from the proposed agreement.

Yet another example of Nathaniel Ford's dynamic leadership. Upon discovering a program that increases productivity, revenue, or efficiency of the system, at all costs it must be eliminated!

But ti might not be over yet. Some of the Muni drivers are talking walk out even though it would not be sanctioned by the union.

How did Mr. Ford and the MTA fail?

In looking at the agreement, it seems that it was even worse than what Nathaniel Ford was touting. No change to compensation. Increases in spending by Muni, without corresponding increases by the drivers, for their healthcare costs. Increase in protection for operators who fail to show up for work. No real reform of how the pension works.

What is almost more troubling than the money and pension reform aspects, is the proposed change in safety. As of now, Muni is averaging over 2000 accidents a year. Its drivers are found to be responsible in just 25% of those incidents. Yet when compared to other transit agencies of similar size or larger, the number becomes more curious. East Bay AC drivers are found at fault 30% of the time. Seattle and Portland drivers are found to be at fault 33% and 47% the time respectively. Now, maybe SF drivers are better. But in watching them cut me off on occasion, I can't believe that.  The numbers seem just too neat on the SF Muni drivers part.

Now, add into that that under the new rule, if the accident's property damage value is less than $15,000 or less (and with only  minor injuries to boot), then no action can be taken against the driver.

Read that again. Does that make sense? I'm not saying that a driver should lose his job over a minor fender bender. But maybe there needs to be some discipline to get the point home on how you drive a massive wheeled vehicle that could cause serious damage or loss of life. It seems that Nathaniel Ford and the Local 250-A are being more than a little cavalier with their attitude towards safety.

Make no mistake, Nathanial Ford just proved that he is not the man for this or any other job. He had support, he had the upper hand, and he was more concerned about appearing to "spike the football" than getting a contract that served the interests of the citizens of San Francisco.

The operators won. There is only partial concessions on work rules. In the end, nothing else changed. The operators are laughing all the way to the bank on this one. No meaningful change which favored the citizens of San Francisco were made with regards to pensions, absenteeism, or pay. For failing to meet the goals, they will continue to be rewarded as some of the highest paid drivers in the country. The MTA will continue to hemorrage money. And this means more cuts to services.

In terms of numbers, Muni is running, currently, at $21 million deficit. This deal will only start to make a dent in that as it is projected to save them $38 million per year over three years. In other words, a little over $12 million per year. Guess where the rest of the deficit is going to come from.

Thank you Mr. Ford and Muni drivers for wrecking Muni and leaving the taxpayers and the fare-payers to make up for your shortsightedness and venality.

Below the fold is the decision.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Well... Muni is still a mess

Tomorrow the MTA gives the people of San Francisco another gift: price increases!

Isn't that just amazingly good. I mean, anytime they can't manage their budget, its the ridership who gets to pay the price. Our unelected, and apparently unaccountable MTA leadership has managed to increase the cost of ridership while decreasing the service.

But hey, at least the operators are getting paid their exhorbitant salaries. I mean, its only fair that the union gets to stick it to the rest of San Francisco.

But I guess I shouldn't complain that much, I mean after all Nathaniel Ford, who apparently is failing at getting hired away to anywhere else in the country did take a 2 percent pay cut earlier this year. That means he only makes $308,837 this year. That $6,000 dollar pay cut he took really benefitted the ridership. 

(In case you wanted to know, the mayor of San Francisco makes $252,000 - and he took a $7,000.)

Now, as this is going on, Muni is negotiating its labor contracts. So far, they have gotten two to the "tentative deal" phase, meaning that the union membership has yet to approve it. The IBEW contract will save a forecasted million dollars.  The same situation is going on with the operators union (Local-250A). Their proposed deal will save $21 million over three years (or $7 million or so per year). 

However, the problem with the operator deal is that they still do not address some of the fundamental problems going on with Muni. First, the operators are still going to be making an obscene amount of money. No cuts in pay. Not cuts in starting salary pay.  And all it guarantees is a freeze for 3 years. Second, they still do not make any contribution to their pensions. All that Mr. Ford's wonderful negotiating has done is getting the union to accept the use of more part time drivers. That was not even the bare minimum. 


Mr. Ford had virtually every bit of support going for him. The Board of Supervisors and the people of the city were dead set against the sweetheart deals that the operators have had for far too long without any corresponding performance on their part.  Yet for some reason, this is going to be allowed to happen because our elected leaders are unwilling to do what is necessary to complete the reform of Muni started by the Prop G movement.

Another opportunity missed. But hey, rather than deal with a real problem, San Francisco wants to debate circumcisions. 

Ford needs to be sacked. The unions need to be put in their place and reminded that their rank and file is here to work for the people of this City and not vice versa.