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Archive for October, 2013

Is there really a difference between a lie and a misrepresentation?

Let’s consider some examples.

President George W. Bush lied when he said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He was hot to trot to invade Iraq and deliberately and aggressively made an unsubstantiated case to do so.

President Bill Clinton lied when he said, “I did not have sex with that woman.” I’m sure Hillary thought otherwise.

Bernie Madoff lied when he promised exorbitant returns to investors. He never had an investment strategy, he falsified investor reports and used their money to fund his lifestyle.

A lie is am outright fabrication; it has no basis in fact.

Misrepresentations, on the other hand, are insidious. They are part of a pattern of deliberate attempts to disguise unpleasant facts, and are usually designed to achieve an ulterior motive. A motive could be benign or harmful.

Remember when former Mayor Villaraigosa promised he would use a trash fee hike to hire 1,000 additional police officers? Only 366 officers were hired as the mayor siphoned off most of the money for other public safety expenditures. Controller Laura Chick openly criticized the mayor for deceiving the public, although she than admitted the use of funds for other hiring was technically legitimate.

Villaraigosa deliberately did not disclose all of the facts to the residents in order to win approval for the fee. 1,000 cops means 1,000 cops – not additional equipment and overtime for the LAPD.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy plans to use funds from construction bond proceeds to purchase I-Pads for LAUSD students. School system lawyers claim this is an appropriate use of the funds. Does anyone really believe the bonds would have been approved if the voters knew up to $1 billion would go to cover the I-Pads and software? In the minds of voters, construction means bricks, mortar and steel – not plastic and electronic components.

Now, on a national scale, President Obama has engaged in a grand misrepresentation. He stated, in no uncertain terms, that Americans could keep the insurance they already had prior to implementation of ACA. However, regulations were written by Health and Human Services that undermine the president’s assertion, probably with his knowledge. Now millions are learning they are losing their coverage they thought was grandfathered. Many will now face much higher premiums.

The president’s objective was probably well intended. Opening up healthcare to all citizens is a noble objective, but withholding key facts is anything but.

This will only heighten the deep divisions facing the country. The United States is a democracy. People are free to disagree over any change to our laws, but honest disagreement will be replaced by pervasive mistrust when our leaders, at both local and national levels, attempt to manipulate outcomes by avoiding full disclosure.

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I thought the LAUSD payroll system implementation failure was as bad as those types of things get……
until the rollout of the Affordable Care Act enrollment website.

Whether you support Obamacare or not, a nation that can send humans and satellites into space – and even beyond the solar system – should be able to get a website up and running with a minimum of problems.

Massive websites are not new. There are government and private sector applications that routinely crunch high volumes of traffic 24/7. The IRS, SSA, large banks, etc., process large volumes of user inquiries and transactions every day. Rest assured that even routine updates are tested thoroughly before they go live. New system implementations are handled under war room type conditions. I have been through my share of them.

The Affordable Care Act website might be unique in the number of interfaces among insurers and federal databases, but the level of complexity and, more importantly, the logic should be similar to what any large, complex organization would encounter. The volume, although heavy, pales in comparison to what internet providers experience.

It wasn’t as if the system had not been tested. It was, or at least to a degree where serious problems in volume-handling capabilities and processes were apparent. It was the failure to apply the brakes when even the lowliest geeks realized it was not going to perform anywhere near what was required.

Why didn’t someone step up and delay implementation?

According to CNN, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explained why the launch was not delayed: “There are people in this country who have waited for decades for affordable health coverage for themselves and their families, …So waiting is not really an option.”

Well, General Custer didn’t want to wait for reinforcements when he ordered his ill-fated charge at the Little Bighorn.

What’s a few months when people have waited decades?

Why didn’t Sebelius give the president fair warning?

Either the president was misinformed or simply did not grasp the severity of the debacle when he described it as a “glitch.”

The government is now calling in a team of techies to deal with it, but here’s the problem: they will be dealing with a system loaded with patches understood only by a burned-out set of programmers. Making corrections or installing improvements around these patches is brain surgery. We are likely talking about custom-tailored fixes, not solutions that neatly slot in to the existing program routines. And then there is more testing, followed by more fixes, and then more testing. Even then, maintaining a jerry-rigged system will be problematic for years to come.

It would be wise to delay implementation until after the holidays and get it right.

It might also be wise to fire Sebelius for this national embarassment.

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Over two weeks ago, the DWP commission requested spending records from the two nonprofits controlled by the utility’s IBEW18 union.

The nonprofits operate with the blessings of DWP management, including GM Ron Nichols who serves on the boards overseeing them. Union boss Brian D’Arcy also serves. The nonprofits have reportedly spent over $40 million since they were established in 2000 and 2002 by ordinances passed by the City Council.

The commission granted two weeks to the nonprofits to provide information on how the $40 million has been spent. No one in either City Hall or the DWP seems to know. The time has passed and nothing was provided.

It was a reasonable request – the nonprofits have been producing financial statements and have filed 990s with the IRS. The financial data, then, should already be organized and available .

The IBEW, controlling half the seats on the oversight boards, wants a month to self-audit the records.

Self-audit: a contradiction in terms on steroids. A more appropriate term is in order – sanitizing.

The commission and City Controller Ron Galperin need full, unimpeded access to the books. They cannot rely on anything less.

Whether the city has the authority to audit the entities is unclear. However, what’s to stop the city ordering the DWP to suspend its financial support to the nonprofits?

I say pull the plug and let them know that stonewalling has a price.

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Cement barriers may be all that is needed to block access to the World War 2 Memorial on the National Mall, but preventing the public from enjoying the Grand Canyon is a monumental challenge.

However, it appears the government has come up with a solution.

President Obama announced today that work would begin immediately to fill the canyon with rocks and gravel.

“It’s going to be the largest public works project in the history of the human race,” the president said.

“The Army Corp of Engineers estimates it will take about 7 million years, or about as long as it took for the canyon to form.….and as long as we expect the Tea Party to continue with its stubborn strategy of denying funding to the government.”

“But there is a silver lining to all of this,” he added. “The project will completely eliminate unemployment, not only in the United States, but in the world. It will also solve the problem of immigration reform since we will need every able-bodied person alive today – and countless future generations – from all four corners of the earth, not to mention still unknown alien civilizations from distant star systems.”

Senator Ted Cruz angrily rebutted the president’s plan: “As usual, as with any of his promises, the president is overstating the benefits. The project will not take longer than three thousand years, which is how long it took the canyon to form after Noah’s flood. In that timeframe, we should be able to rely solely on American labor.”

However, all parties agree we will not see the Bullet Train completed before either estimated duration.

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The DWP Commission has given the utility and its union two weeks to provide spending data for two affiliated nonprofits.

The nonprofits were established by ordinances passed by the Los Angeles City Council in 2000 and 2002 ostensibly for the purpose of enhancing communications between management and the union on the subject of employee safety.

Never mind that safety programs should be developed and controlled directly by the utility. It is acceptable to engage the services of consultants to assist, but funding shadowy organizations, each with its own bureaucracy, at a rate of $4 million per year for ten years is beyond anyone’s sensibilities. When detailed financial data cannot be supplied on short notice, the odds are that the enterprises serve no legitimate purpose.

Quite frankly, allowing two weeks to supply what should already be available from the first nine years of operations is very generous. You would think there should already be audited financial statements with data to support the balances and activity. The requisite form 990’s appear to have been filed with the IRS, so you know there have to be records, although there is no guarantee they are reliable.

What will the commission receive in two weeks?

Will the DWP stonewall?

Will the data supplied be frivolous or incomplete?

If the commission is provided with anything less than full disclosure, it will be time to call in the District Attorney – immediately. Maybe even the U.S Attorney.

If it takes perpwalking Nichols, D’Arcy or anyone else to get the answers, then so be it.

Regardless, it is time to dissolve the nonprofits. Anything that secret cannot be good for the public. Since they were created by ordinances, the City Council should be able to eliminate them in the same fashion.

Garcetti has to face down the gang at the DWP and IBEW. Unlike Gary Cooper in High Noon, he does not have to face the bad guys alone.

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