Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Trapped at Sao Paolo Airport

What do I do? What do I do? I'm a prisoner here, now. That's what kept going through my head. I'm trapped in the international terminal in Sao Paolo Airport.

The South African staff stopped me from boarding the airplane. I spent a few days in Argentina (which I'll write about later), and apparently, if you stay there - you need to get a yellow fever shot. Not only do you need a shot, you have to wait ten days before you can travel to South Africa. (Believe me, I thought about receiving a shot at the terminal.) But because of the 10 day rule - that would mean I'd be trapped at the international terminal of the airport for 10 days. I don't think that'd be that fun - sleeping on airport chairs and eating fast food three times a day. You'd also not see the light.

I tried arguing with the staff that they needed to show me the regulation of how long one needs to be in Argentina to require this shot. No one could show me this proof. But that didn't mean I was boarding. Nope, they were clear. I wasn't getting on the flight.

Why am I trapped? Because, Americans need a visa for Brazil. But there's a rule that you don't need a visa if you're just transferring, which I was. I was a good lawyer and thoroughly checked the rules and laws of Brazilian immigration. (I may not have been the best lawyer though, because what I didn't check was this Yellow Fever vaccination shot requirement for South Africa - which I never heard of.) And Brazil is really strict about this "only being in the international terminal rule". So strict, that they even had Turkish Airline Captain escort me to the international terminal to sign off that I was definitely flying out of here on another flight. Brazil even made him sign for it.

I flew from Buenos Aires to Sao Paolo - only to transfer to Africa. Apparently, Turkish Airlines was supposed to tell me at Buenos Aires about showing proof of my yellow fever vaccination. But they let me board. And that's what started the Catch-22, which is defined as "a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions." The definition should add that bureaucracies create dumb rules that they don't think about to create these impossible situations.

Anyways, I was a prisoner, because I can't leave the international terminal. I also don't have a flight onward. I also can't afford $1,000 to fly out of here immediately. I'm stuck. This reminds me of another kind of vision of Hell. You're trapped. There's no way out. You can see the people coming and going, but not you. You've come, but you can never leave.

You know what was the worst? That a number of the staff from South Africa - the same ones who prevented me from going onboard - wouldn't help me out of the situation. They said it was Turkish Airlines fault, since they weren't supposed to let me board. But no one from Turkish Airlines is here today, because they're not operating today. (Remember; I said this is like being trapped in a nightmare.)

South Africa said Turkish Airline is to "deport" me back to Buenos Aires. That's pretty harsh: Deport.

Looks like I only have four options:

1. Go back to Buenos Aires,
2. Pay to go back home,
3. Go to Istanbul via Turkish Airlines (maybe on their cost),
4. Stay trapped.

(Sigh). How does this kind of stuff happen to me? It's situations like this that make me want to come home. I've been trapped in Russian house arrest. I almost died in a Turkish desert. And, let's not forget that I could have been killed by a boat propeller splitting open my head or by drowning.

Well, I've been away now for 241 days; that's 7.9 months now. Maybe it's a sign that it's time for me to come back.

I'll let everyone know how things go. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Cloud Forests, Good Bye Colombia, Hello Argentina

Swimming in the pools (again).
I spent my last days in Colombia in the northern cloud forests of Colombia. I loved the sense of peace I had there. But I could feel that the time was coming to say good bye to Colombia.

The little village has wonderful coffee; it's also where coffee plantations first started in Colombia. I also enjoyed the wonderful Italian food they had; it must be the best pasta I've had in over a year. I ate at the Italian restaurant every day; my favorite food was the tortellinis with pesto.

Yummy! MMMM!!! And I love that a glass of red wine from Argentina was only $3 with it. I wonder if it was coincidental that I watched The Godfather for the first time.

I went on a few hikes in the forest and went for a swim for the first time in the pools since that boat hit me.

I've also for the first time found the value of mp3 books. I listened to books on tape in the past (less on cd). But, the value of mp3 book is that you can do other things, while going through a book - such as walking, riding a bus, or being on an airplane. So, that should help me speed up some reading, which it already has been doing.

Like I've said before - I could feel the time slipping through my fingers, and I knew my stay in Colombia was ending. I felt sad about it. I enjoyed Colombia, even though I didn't see much of it. I didn't even see Medellin, the famous city that cocaine built, or Bogota. But, I'll have to come back.

I had a rough journey leaving Colombia and coming into Argentina. Had to wake up early in  morning to catch a flight into Bogota. I listened to more of my audio book on the plane. Then, I had to wait at the airport for 7 hours, where I was able to catch up on some errands. I would land into Buenos Aires at 03:00A. That wasn't that fun. I wouldn't sleep for over 30 hours.

But I made it. I'm in Argentina now, visiting some friends. It makes me feel like Che Guevara in Motorcycle Diaries. When Ernesto and Alberto leave Buenos Aires, they visit Che's girlfriend and relatives.

Pool I went swimming in

Me: After my swim.

A baby scorpion; it jumped on me.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Baldwin Park's Towing Mafia Attempts to Scam Citizens Again - Special Report

William Salazar (shot about 10 years ago)
Owner of Royal Coaches in Baldwin Park
William Salazar, the owner of Royal Coaches ("Coaches") - Baldwin Park's contracted towing company - is trying to illegally muscle through his contract, which has 6 more months to go before it expires. Salazar convinced Mayor Manuel Lozano to agenda his contract to be discussed this Wednesday, February 21, 2018, but the City hasn't even made a request for bidding, which is required under state law. What makes Salazar think he's even entitled to even try such a scheme? Does it have anything to do with the fact that Coaches has contributed campaign money to the council members recently? Or was it all at the millions of dollars he stole from the undocumented community to go into the bank accounts of the police department and his company? This special report is a case study on (1) the history of Royal Coaches's potential criminal business venture and (2) How Will Salazar has found the secret to get out of jail for free and to rise from rags to riches: Grease your politicians. You decide, if Coaches should have their contract renewed.

In determining how steeped in criminal history the company is, one needs to first look at whether the owners have a criminal history. In open court, two witnesses heard Salazar's attorney state that his criminal history has been expunged. That means, that Salazar had a criminal past, but asked the court to hide it from public view. This called for further investigation.

According to the Los Angeles Superior Court website, a William Salazar born on April 30, 1961 had at least three criminal convictions. According to one database, William Salazar of Royal Coaches also has the same birthday. The court website states that on May 18, 1989 a William Salazar was convicted of possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana. On May 15, 1990 - he was convicted of driving under the influence (ironic, given that his company towed so many drunk drivers' cars away). And on November 3, 1994 - revealing a potential propensity for violence - Salazar was also convicted of the felony of brandishing a deadly weapon. (Given all the circumstantial evidence, I would predict that probability is almost 99% that these two people are the same people, but only DNA or fingerprints can verify absolutely.)

Does anyone find it strange that a company contracted out to the police cannot be a criminal, especially when police towing companies are primarily in the business of nabbing drunk drivers? In others words, it makes sense that someone working for a police, contractor or otherwise, needs to have a clean record, right? That's the reason that the Baldwin Park Municipal Code 100.090 states that the Chief of Police needs to do a criminal background check and report back to the council on whether the company is fit for serving the police.

And we all know how the Chief of Baldwin Park, Michael Taylor is. Besides having a contract that states that he can only be fired if he commits a felony like rape or murder, Mr. Taylor also overlooked the fraud conviction of a business owner in Rukli. Inc, after he received a $10,000 donation to run for public office in San Bernardino County. And what Mr. Taylor doesn't want you to know, but Legal Lens discovered, is that Taylor received an injection of $7,700 from a secret funding source - which was most likely backed by Salazar. Think about this: Does that give incentive to do a thorough background check on the Salazars? I think not.

Going back to the law, Baldwin Park's Municipal Code Section 100.100 even has a provision that states that the city could terminate the towing company's contract if "any person having any ownership interest in that Official Police Tow Service . . . violates any federal, state or local law[.]"

But here, it's clear that Salazar, by being the owner of Coaches, has an ownership interest, and the Los Angeles Superior Court says he may have violated state law. Not only has he not been fired and has been in business for at least 37 years but is now asking for an early renewal of his contract. In September of 2010, even the California Highway Patrol (who has now allegedly terminated a part of its service contract with Coaches) barred a Coaches's driver from working for them because he had a criminal conviction. (It makes you wonder, does anyone working for the City of Baldwin Park have a clean record.)

If the CHP did it, how come such common sense doesn't exist in Baldwin Park?

Always follow the money.

For about 10 years, the unholy trinity of a private contracted tow company, Coaches; along with Baldwin Park's Police Department; and the greedy Mayor Lozano and the councillors devised the ultimate scheme to turn metal into gold. The only catch would be that they would have to steal the property of others to do it. And because no conversion can take place without energy, they took from the blood, sweat, and tears of the poorest of the poor: the undocumented. Within five years, this unholy alliance reaped $12 million by impounding and towing at least 15,247 cars.* (These are record breaking figures for the entire United States, if not the world.)

The towing scam worked like this. The Baldwin Park Police would target undocumented drivers at DUI checkpoints, by targeting routes and selecting times which would net the most number of laborers returning home. At the time, the law permitted (but did not require) that the car of an undocumented driver could be impounded for 30 days. (The law has since changed and been also declared illegal in practice.) The police department would seize the driver's car and tow and impound it for 30 days. The fees would be in the thousands of dollars, and the owner would lose the car at auction.

Although a scheme is clearly immoral, recently, the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeal has declared it illegal and unconstitutional. On June 21, 2017, the high court held that cities can no longer hold a car for 30 days, unless it has some evidence to believe that releasing the car would cause danger to the public. Holding a car any longer than necessary violated the rights of the owner of the vehicle, under our Fourth Amendment Right to be free from an unreasonable seizure.

In simple English - the police cannot deprive an owner of his property - just because the government says that the owners are dangerous for society without having more proof. (Incidentally, governments have historically confiscated property by targeting a vulnerable class and accusing them of being dangerous. Take these three instance. (1) The Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity to plunder the pagan temples. (2) King Henry VIII declared himself the head of the church to confiscate English Catholic property. (3) And more recently, the Nazis enacted laws to label Jews as dangerous, which enabled the Third Reich to loot from them. Really; what Baldwin Park did is one of the oldest tricks in the book.)

The high court wasn't the only house of justice that condemned the scheme. The Los Angeles Superior Court, which has jurisdiction over Baldwin Park, specifically condemned the city for its brazenness and its incredible greed. On May 20, 2017, the Civil Grand jury found that Baldwin Park was the worst offender of the towing scheme in Los Angeles County. The grand jury found that Baldwin Park's fee of $931 for a one-day-impound was excessive. The next highest fee was in Beverly Hills for $445. I guess the impoverished East Los Angeles City of Baldwin Park thinks it's land is worth twice as much as Beverly Hills to justify such fees.

It also found that Baldwin Park had no records of Due Process in the form of impound hearings. (I requested an impound hearing for a family of one of the boxing kids, and it took three hours for the police department to sort out how to conduct one. Fortunately, I retrieved the car back for the family.)

And finally the civil grand jury report states that Baldwin Park has no written policy on preventing corruption. The report was specifically concerned as to whether relatives of public officials could also buy impounded cars.

But stealing vehicles wasn't enough. The Salazar brothers were also in the habit of taking valuables from these stolen vehicles, alleging to the rightful owners that they were missing, and selling those valuables. (See pictures below as proof.) Rafael, a mechanic and a victim of Baldwin Park's impound scheme - told me personally that he only wanted to retrieve his tool box to work. When he went to retrieve it, Coaches prohibited individuals from retrieving their items after the car was impounded. Rafael never retrieved his tool box. Eventually, a sting revealed that victims would also lose their cell phones and stereos to private buyers, before the car was sold at auction.

But given the background of the Salazars and Chief of Police - Michael Taylor - does it surprise you?

Although much has been discovered, one large piece of the puzzle is still missing: Where did the profits go? Coaches used to pay Baldwin Park a franchise fee every month with a check made out to the "Baldwin Park Franchise Fund". Incidentally, the Grand Jury reported that of all the tow companies surveyed in LA County - Coaches gave the most money per year to a city, totaling $625,583 in a year (page 21).

To hide their nefarious affair, the city failed to answer numerous public records request for the bank statements of franchise fund. The Legal Lens believes that the bank statements will show how much and who received a cut of this money. In the end, the City Attorney - Robert Tafoya stated that no such bank account existed. Given his reputation for deception (like misrepresenting my signature in court), this is not probable and not likely. People generally don't write out checks to ghost bank account names. More investigation must be done on this secret bank account - which Baldwin Park is doing everything it can to cover this up.

So, this isn't really just about a contract being illegally renewed. The big picture is looking clearer. The entire scam may show how organized crime (commonly known as the mafia or mob) may be controlling the City of Baldwin Park. This case shows that organized crime groups, under the guise of private enterprises, can grease politicians to make laws that support them. They can pay off police captains and chiefs with graft to not charge them or their employees. Then they can make a huge profit off an illegal or harmful enterprise, usually through illegality and violence; in this case, it was towing. With those gold ole days over, it looks like marijuana and sham construction contracts will take its place.

Unfortunately, their profits come at our costs. By taking our hard earned labor, in the form of taxes, these players are eradicating our civilized, free, and trustworthy democracy. (And in effect, is it possible that this problem may turn into a national security risk**.) We expect the police to provide a service, which is to protect and serve us. We expect our politicians to enact laws for the benefit of the most people. We're not paying the police and our politicians to focus their time and energy to target the most vulnerable amongst us to turn a profit. But here, with regard to the towing scandal, the misery and hardship increased for a number of these families. In fact, one of my first cases as a law student dealt with a family that lost the car they needed to drive their cancer stricken daughter to the doctors**. Usually what comes next is a scheme to steal our property.

In my view, there are two steps in breaking the illicit cycle of organized crime and corrupt politics. One, transparency is required, but when the courts are not enforcing our public records law, this is not possible. Two, all of us, must do what we can to no longer tolerate this kind of system. That is why famous political exile and Noble Prize laureate, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn said, "Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice."

*Finding discovered by receiving records in a protracted lawsuit - Casas v. City of Baldwin Park (filed 2013).

**The organized crime expert Loretta Napoleoni found that profits made from illegal goods and services end up funding foreign and rebellious political parties.

***That was one of the first cases that showed me what a sorry state we were in in Los Angeles - supposedly heralded as a thriving first world city.

[Update: On February 21, 2018, the Baldwin Park City Council voted to renew Royal Coaches Contract without request for proposal.

It also looks like Baldwin Park adopted a new ordinance, where the City no longer has to go out for big when they decide that they want the current tow company.

The ordinance gives the duties of RFP and doing a criminal background check from the Chief of Police to the City Manager. (Guess Taylor doesn't want to keep having his hands dirtied.]

Sting reveals Coaches selling cell phones

Sting reveals Coaches selling stereos 

Sting reveals coaches selling radios

Coaches stealing electricity

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Manuel Lozano Fined by State $2,310

Manuel Lozano Fined Again by the FFPC.
Looks like, our not-so-bright Mayor, Manuel Lozano's favorite song is Britney Spear's Oops I Did It Again. What'd he do again? Again, he's been fined by the Fair Political Practices Commission. This isn't the first time that Lozano has been dishonest with who he's receiving money from. Lozano was involved in a scandalous trip to China in 2007.

Read all about here: Good on the San Gabriel Tribune for picking up on the story

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

227th Day (or 7.567 months) of Sabbatical: New Reading and Movie List

Noon: Rest from Work 
by Vincent Van Gogh 
I haven't been formally working for 227 days now; that's about 7.567 months. When I saw how long I've gone without working, I was pleasantly surprised I've gone this long without having someone pay me: client or boss. (Though on this trip, I picked up some money by doing a few odd jobs and got free room and board by volunteering at a hostel.) But, wow: 227 days!

That's pretty good I've come so far. It's not like I've climbed Everest or built a skyscraper or a ran the mile under four minutes. No. But I at least have said, "No more" to a world that wishes to squeeze my blood, sweat, and tears to advance the profits of others. At least on my sabbatical, I've chosen and choose how to devote my labor and time to advance my own skills, knowledge, interests, and works. Really, I've taken a break to live the most beautiful life possible - as a kind of celebration to being completely debt free.

I argue often with a Russian friend of mine - who says I'm not working. He should say - I'm not working for money, because I am working. (He disagrees doggedly.) Just look at all the articles and muckraking I've been doing. Those articles and the research that goes into them doesn't happen magically. They need work, from me and others. (Thanks to those who generously contribute their time and talent to advance the cause of an honest government and hold greedy and thieving politicians accountable.)

But my Russian friend is right - I haven't made a cent off of any of these recent writings. And that only shows that the works and projects I spend time are on things that I really care about and love. (Ironically, the painting is by Van Gogh - someone who dedicated his life to his art but never received the appreciation merited in his lifetime.)

And what's the reward? To improve and develop and hone the talents, so that I can become a fine craftsman in the projects I do. Here'a great talk by Stephan Sagmeister on sabbaticals. 

To be honest, though, it's not all sunshine. Perhaps the biggest and most-felt drawback is feeling the loss of missing people (and my awesome kitty Jeh Pan). The other day, I remember how my mom made my favorite Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee at the perfect strength when I wake up in the morning. Jeh Pan comes and greets me and says good morning. I pick him up. He's big and heavy. Then I tell him: "Come on, let's go see Mom." In response, he shakes his tail, while I hold him.

I bring him with us to the dining room. I let him down. He meows at Mom. Then, I sit with my mother at the dining table to have a wonderful Korean breakfast of hot and steaming rice with cracked crabs and fish and we talk about the day. I tell people - my day goes downhill from there.

Regardless, in this season of this sabbatical, without a doubt, the most important lesson I've learned is how grateful I am to be alive. While I was swimming in the calm and peaceful turquoise waters of the Caribbean, a speed boat came straight at my head, potentially killing me. I dove underneath the boat, but the propeller still slashed into my shoulder and head. I ended up with stitches and that was it. No missing body parts, no broken bones, no lost life.

I do have scarring though, and perhaps they're supposed to reminders of three lessons I learned. (1) Be grateful to be alive. (2) Know that our lives are like a candle, which can be blown out at any second. (3) My God is the God of second chances. The principle of second chances is echoed in this scriptural verse: "But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing." 1 John 1:9 (Good News).

To conclude, one big advantage of time off is being able to read more and watch more movies (and I'm not talking about the junky kinds). So, here's my list for February of 2018. (I haven't posted one since March of 2017). 

Book and Movie List for February 2018

1. The Director of Old Boy, Park Chan-wook created another Masterpiece - The Handmaiden. This is probably my favorite film I've seen recently.

Set during Japanese Imperial Korea, Amazon describes the movie as follows: "PARK presents a gripping and sensual tale of two women - a young Japanese Lady living on a secluded estate, and a Korean woman who is hired to serve as her new handmaiden, but is secretly plotting with a conman to defraud her of a large inheritance. Inspired by the novel Fingersmith by British author Sarah Waters, THE HANDMAIDEN borrows the most dynamic elements of its source material and combines it with PARK Chan-wook’s singular vision to create an unforgettable viewing experience."

I recommend this movie, because I think Park skillfully tells the story from three different perspectives. The film stresses the importance of seeing a narrative from different lenses and how much that story changes or differs, depending on who tells it. By watching this film, I felt like I learned a little better about how to tell a story through different fragmented views.

For my conservative viewers, this movie is full of lesbian sex and nudity. If that's going to offend you - don't watch it.

2. In The Internet's Own Boy, director Brian Knappenberger brings us a biographical film about the life and death of Aaron Swartz - a computer programming child prodigy - who committed suicide by hanging at age 26 because of the pressures from the U.S. Attorney, who tried to convict him for 38 years of prison time. Swartz was the cofounder of the Reddit and teenage millionaire - who threw it all away to pursue free speech and free information activism in the realm of the internet. Although able to defeat Congress' bill to restrict the internet, otherwise known as SOPA, Swartz broke under the pressures of retaliation and persecution.

I recommend this movie, because it shows several concepts important for the strategist. One, Swartz was a genius to fight his political and corporate enemies on a terrain they were absolutely unfamiliar with: social media. Congress and its supporters were thrown off their high horse. As Gene Sharp says - bring your enemy into your territory. And by doing so, he won. Swartz really pioneered a roadmap in leveraging social media against rich lobbying interests.

But point two is just as important. Know and never underestimate your enemy, a fundamental principle espoused in Sun Tze's Art of War, which appeared in my March reading list. As Sun Tze  said - if you only know yourself and not your enemy - for every battle won, one will be lost. Anyways, even if you're not a strategist - this movie is important to see how anti-Democratic the US is becoming and how corporate interests are hijacking our laws and politics.

3. Pure, White, and Deadly by John Yudkin.

In 1972, over 50 years ago, Dr. John Yudkin does an extensive study on the past, present, and future of sugar, its industry, and its consumers. He details the horrible effects it has on the body and human society and makes his case convincingly with brilliant experiments and thought. The sugar industry dismissed him and attempted to smear him as a quack and his work as a "science fiction". Over 50 years later, almost all, if not all, of Yudkin's predictions have come true regarding sugar, it's effects, and it's damage on individuals and society. A number of people claim to predict the future, but we're to trust only those who actually have a track record of getting it right. Yudkin is your guy.

For the sake of humanity, everybody needs to read this book and demand change from our food industries.

4. The Atlantic Monthly by Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Steve Jobs).

I recommend this magazine because it's interesting and the writing is of high quality. My favorite articles tend to focus on current cases before the Supreme Court.

I'm warning you in advance, it's unashamedly vocally liberal and Democratic, but that shouldn't be a reason for you to avoid reading it if you're conservative. There's something for everyone in The Atlantic.

For your information, Mark Twain was even a contributor for The Atlantic at one point.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Foiled Robbery: On Luck & Signs

Folk tales Korean Tiger WaterColor
by Jeremy Yong
Korean tigers are supposed to be lucky
and ward off the evil spirits.
Years ago in New York - I met up with my German friend Volker, who told me that I had to be luckiest person he ever met. I remember the incident well. I didn't want to pay for a bus tour - and right then and there, I found a tour bus ticket someone had lost. I asked the crowd if someone lost their ticket, but when no one reclaimed it - I took it and didn't pay for the tour.

I have a friend who we'll call KS from New Zealand - who also told me the same thing. When I was in high school - my mother told me once - "I think you have a lot of luck, Paul. It's not normal."

In Mexico, my brother once told me - "There's gonna be a day when your luck runs out, Paul." (I think he likes to cry bitter grapes, though.)

And I told him, "I'm like a cat. I have 9 lives."

"You keep telling yourself that."

* * *
I received a text message a few days ago. It said in Spanish - "You need to leave. It's a risk for you to stay there."

I gave the key to the hostess's brother. He didn't look too happy.

I was confused. No explanation. Kind of disruptive. But it was time for me to leave anyhow. I had finished recovering at the beach.

I took a taxi to the local clinic and had my stitches removed. The nurse was not gentle. It was like she removed my stitches in the most painful way. After, I went to the city.

Later that night, my host meets me for dinner in the city.

Jon explains, "There was plan to rob you. That's why you had to get out of there. Ingrid's brother has no money, because he spends it all on cocaine. He told someone on the island his plan, and they told us. So we told you - get out of there."

"Oh," I said. "No wonder why he didn't look happy when I left."

"Yes, because you ruined his plan. He's a bad person."

"I know. I saw him and Ingrid get into an argument."

"Yes, today, he punched her in the chest, today. We filed a police report. He's run away to the next town.

"Oh, no. Ingrid was crying so much."

Later, Jon also tells me that a Panamanian drug dealer was asking about me. I've never seen him, but apparently he observed quite a lot about me. Good I got out of there.

In my head, it was hard for me to believe this, especially after avoiding a near death accident so recently.

* * *
I text my brother and tell him: "Jeffrey's come back."

"Who's Jeffrey?" He asks.

"It's Jeh Pan's [our cat's] friend. Mom told me he ran away for a month, and both Jeh Pan and Mom got sad about it. They lost hope about ever seeing him again. But Mom said he just came back, and the first people he wanted to see was Mom and Jeh Pan."

My brother doesn't answer back.

I tell him, "You know it's a lucky sign. It means that whatever we've lost is going to come back to us."

He still doesn't answer. I don't expect him to.

* * *
Before I left the beach village, I found a jaguar cub on the streets. I thought that was funny, because the Scriptures say that the lazy man won't even go onto the street to work, because he says a lion prowls it. But, I actually found a jaguar cub on the street. How amazing!

A guy was carrying it around, and holding it like it was his baby. It was beautiful and had the largest blue eyes. I should've taken a picture. But I petted it. It tried to bite but stopped short of doing so.

The guy let me hold it. It was heavy; really heavy; heavier than a human baby of that size. And it was purring, which was nice. It was a beautiful creature with exotic colors and ring patterns on its fur.

I wonder what it means if you find a lion cub on the street. I think it's lucky if you get a chance to hold it.

* * *
From time to time, I think about luck. It's a real phenomenon that academic scholars recognize some people have a lot of, though to my knowledge, there hasn't been a good study as to why some people have more luck than others. It also appears certain individuals know how to increase their chances of being lucky.

The ancient elite consulted with oracles and seers to read the signs about battle. It makes me wonder if the world does give us hints about the future. Something to think about. Something I don't know much about.

Those are my recent thoughts. Enjoy your weekend.

From Colombia,


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

TaylorGate: Did Did Baldwin Park's Chief of Police, Michael Taylor, "OK" a convicted fraudster for $10,000?

Michael Taylor, Chief of Police of Baldwin Park
& Board Member of West Valley Water District
(c) Los Angeles Times
Against city policy, did Baldwin Park's Chief of Police, Michael Taylor "OK" a convicted fraudster to receive a marijuana license for $10,000? You decide.

For 2017's West Valley Water Board Election, challenger and current Chief of Police for Baldwin Park, Michael Taylor, received at least $10,000 to run for office from Sharone Bershatski. Although Taylor lost the 2015 election, with the injection of at least $17,7000 of drug money, Taylor won this time.

But what did the Bershatski receive?

Bershatski is business owner of Rukli, Inc. - a marijuana growing and distribution business. Not only did Mayor Manuel Lozano, Council Member Cruz Baca and Council Member Monica Garcia vote to grant Rukli, Inc. a marijuana license, it also granted Rukli, sole distribution rights of marijuana within the city- which means in simple English - all those who are going to be selling marijuana in Baldwin Park will have to go through Rukli and pay it a fee. And that in turn, means, that Bershatski and his partner(s) will be making more money, because the city, in effect, gave Rukli a marijuana monopoly in the city.

But here's the latest scoop. Rukli has another alleged partner named Greg Kilbanov, the CEO of American Cab and Yellow Cab. But Yellow Cab also does business as Rykal, LLC, which states is owned by Greg Kilbanov. (Notice the similarity to the name Rukli.) But Rukli doesn't want this knowledge to be publicized. And why not?

Kilbanov may have been convicted of fraud and perhaps, even other felonies. According to the Los Angeles Superior Court website for case number SA020394, on May 9, 1995, Kilbanov pled to fraud under California Penal Code 502.7(a) in Beverly Hills Court. A common form of this fraud is when fraudsters call senior citizens to get their bank account numbers. Though the details of the fraud case are not know, such as if Kilbanov pled to a misdemeanor or felony, the court website also makes it clear that Kilbanov also violated this parole conditions and was held to answer for it at the West Field District under the same case number.

(The court's website, under case no BA201048, also says that on May 24, 2000, Kilbanov was charged under California Penal Code Sections 211,  459, 487(a) & 487(c), which respectively are robbery, burglary, grand theft for over $950, and grand theft of an automobile or firearm. The final judgement of the case has not been posted on the website.)

Kilbanov's past triggers the questions of whether Rukli should have even received a marijuana license from Baldwin Park. According to Baldwin Park's policy requirements for receiving a marijuana license, the applicant must disclose his entire criminal history. Also, the applicant "must certify, as a condition of maintaining the permit, that it will not employ any person with any type of violent or serious felony conviction(s) as specified in Sections 667.5 and 1192.7 of the Penal Code or any felony conviction involving fraud, deceit or embezzlement."

Here, although it's not certain whether Kilbanov pled to a felony or misdemeanor, it's clear that he's been convicted of fraud. And even if Kilbanov's pled only to a misdemeanor, did Taylor exercise sound and unbiased and good judgment in passing Rukli's application forward to the City Council for a vote?

And let's not forget one of the players who voted to give Rukli a monopoly and Taylor his new contract: Monia Garcia. Conveniently enough, Monica Garcia's senate donation forms state that Kilbanov also contributed $4,400 to support her campaign, which really  means Garcia received at least $8,800 in drug money, all from the Rukli owners. The final sum of all the drug money Garcia received to run for state senate is still pending investigation by The Legal Lens.

Although a ten year old can even understand that something looks wrong here, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Bershatski said this about his $10,000 contribution: "We understood that [Taylor] was a good man". And, good, how?

The picture is becoming clearer regarding the in-your-face corruption amongst the public officials and administrators in the City of Baldwin Park. In December of 2017, the LA Times reported on how Baldwin Park's City Council granted Taylor an unusual contract, which the city attorney Robert Tafoya drafted.

The contract says that Taylor could only be fired if he was convicted of a felony, such as rape, murder, or grand theft. (And think about this - who would file such charges? Taylor on himself? How about the city attorney? A subordinate cop - who would get fired?)

In light of all the alleged graft and expectations to follow through with questionable ethics and unsound conduct, is it probable that Taylor needed such a contract to secure him from being fired? Perhaps. Even likely.

To conclude, both TaylorGate and MonicaGate (who are both accepting large sums of drug money to enter and stay in politics) are only proving the current and dysfunctional state of democracy. The question which arises is: What can the common citizen do to hold these players accountable for betraying the public's trust to enrich themselves by auctioning their vote and duty to the highest bidders?

Taylor's choices and conduct clearly threaten the very existence of a democratic order. It's also sad that prosecution of these players is so difficult and almost non-existent. Personally, it makes me wonder if we're coming to the end of America's democratic age. After all, democracy is supposed to be designed for our elected officials to make decisions that are in the best interest of the people - not for themselves and not for those who could pay the most. But as Indian, woman, author and activist, Aurndhati Roy said, "A system is corrupt when it is strictly profit-driven, not driven to serve the best interest of the people."

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Seeing Death

Don't fall asleep, I tell myself. Some people who fall asleep never wake up.

Another voice in my head said - But sleeping would be so nice. All the pain would gone. Then life would be so happy.

I don't need such temptation right now, I think.

And even another voice says - Just die and the pain will all be gone. You can be with your Lord in peace. No more suffering. 

Don't fall asleep, Paul. I tell myself. You might never wake up again. 

I read somewhere that sometimes people who are put down with anesthesia never wake up.

I'm on a motorcycle. We're heading to the local hospital. 5 miles left to go.

All the while, my head is nodding. It's hitting the driver's back.

There's a guy behind me. He's pressed so close to me.

It's good. It assures I won't fall off the motorcycle. He's from my hostel; he came to help me.

I can feel my arm slip and lose power and fling in the wind. On my right shoulder - blood is seeping and gushing and staining one of my favorite t-shirts. The stain is large and dark and wet and a dark brown. It's full of blood.

I feel tired. It hurts a lot. The pain is throbbing. I've lost too much blood, I think. I don't want to believe it, but it's around 4PM; and I feel so sleepy.

Don't fall asleep, Paul. You might never wake up. I have to remind myself. I think about seeing some of the people I miss and love. But they're not here.

You have to pull through - I think.

Then another voice says - Why even live? 

I remembered when I was 5, they took me to the hospital for stitches. I remember the bright hospital lights and my father being worried - more worried than my mother. I remember the doctor putting the needle through my skin and what that felt like - even though I was numb. I remember what it was like to be 5 again.

We make it to the hospital.

* * *
Two hours before getting to the hospital, I was swimming in the Caribbean Ocean. I was returning back to shore. While swimming to shore, I scan for boats. I didn't see any.

But then I see a speed boat with passengers coming straight for my head. It's going so fast, the nose of the boat is lifted.

Oh sh**, I think. The fu*@@! doesn't see me. Is he blind? Is this happening? Oh sh**!!! - Dive now!!!! I think.

I swim like a frog underneath the boat, but I don't go deep enough. I remember the color of the bottom of the boat. I remember the sound of the propeller hitting me.

Oh no. I'm hurt. I didn't avoid it! 

The propeller slashed into my shoulder.

I pop my head up and signal for the driver to get me. He's an old man - screaming something foul in Spanish. I don't understand. My shoulder hurts. I just tread water with eggbeater kicks and ask him to help me go back to shore.

He keeps driving away but the passengers force him to get me. When the boat approaches, I left myself out of the water, push my hand on the edge of the boat and use all my strength to lift myself into it. One of the passengers holds my hand and pulls me in.

Blood and salt water flood the bottom of the boat. I see the gashes on my shoulder.

Oh, no.

The passengers look horrified and keep staring at me. The driver keeps screaming at me. But I don't understand. I think I'm in shock. I'm dazed and confused.

He doesn't look at me directly. And it's not out of guilt.

His eyes are blood shot. He's old. My first two thoughts are: Are you nearsighted? Are you drunk? He's not even wearing glasses.

He brings me to shore - only a 3 minute ride. I was almost there, but I don't know if I could've swam back myself.

I walk on the beach, looking for a mirror. How bad is it?

A crowd draws near - looking horrified. People tell me in Spanish - You need to go to the hospital.

"I don't need to go to the hospital," I said.

I'm looking for a mirror. But a lady stops me and says in Spanish: "I'm a doctor. Let me help you." So, I let her.

She asks for a medical kit.

The people at the local bar bring one. They follow her instructions. They told me - "Your head got slashed."

I couldn't feel it. I put my hand to my hair. My hair was soaked in blood. The blood flowed on my hand.

I see - I thought.

I understand everything she's saying. I follow her Spanish. I can't believe I'm understanding everyone talking to me in my condition. After cleaning my wounds - and not being afraid of my blood - she tells me I need to get stitches on my head.

I said, "Ok."

I remember she looks like an angel to me.

The driver comes to the crowd and starts screaming at me again. The crowd looks at him with disgust. The old man doesn't even ask if I'm ok.

Her boyfriend walks me back to my hostel. I told him he didn't need to. He insisted.

We talk a little about where I'm from. They're from Argentina. He's an accountant. I told him I'm from Los Angeles.

The boyfriend explains to the hostel people what happened. I get my stuff, such as my wallet. I keep my bloody shirt on. A clean shirt would only be blood-soaked later.

I thank the boyfriend, named Nacho. I hire a motorcycle.

A hostel guy accompanies me to the hospital. He sits tightly behind me. It's tight, but later, I realize it's good, because I might have fell off the motorcycle.

* * *
The doctor at the hospital sees me immediately. There was no wait. They take me to a room.

The nurse tells me to lie on my good side. She injects a few shots of anesthesia into my head. It stings.

Blood is covering everything. My arm. My shoulders. My shirt. The plastic mattress I'm on. I'm still conscious though.

I think: What if the propeller hit my face? What if it took out my eyes? What if it cut through my skull? I'm very lucky. I'm very lucky. I'm very lucky. 

The doctor gets a needle and thread to stitch me up. They clean my shoulder wound.

He tells me no stitches needed there, even though I'm bleeding profusely. They dress my shoulder wound.

He said I need an X-ray, which their hospital doesn't have. It's a small hospital with only three rooms. The town probably has less than 1,000 people.

I tell him there's a lot of pain. He wants to inject me with a huge needle of pain killers. I refuse.

Though the needle isn't attractive, if I broke a bone, I read that painkillers slow down healing. I told him I'd rather pop some pills.

Then the police bring in a guy, who got into a knife fight. I turned away, when so much of his flesh was removed you could see bone and blood and sinew.

I pay the bill. It's $26 USD. Outside, Ingrid and Jon, my hosts are waiting outside. Jon looks really worried. They give me some pills.

I smile, though. I tell him it could have been worse.

Ingrid asks me if I'll be going back to Cartagena.

I said, "Why would I go back there? It's not my home. Let's go back to the beach -where I can rest." I feel safer with Jon and Ingrid anyways.

* * *

At the beach, I try to lay down on a plastic mattress outside. I'm tired.

But too much blood spills from my head and stains the mattress and the deck. I feel bad.

Jon and Ingrid said they'll clean it and not worry about it. I think a hotel chain would charge me for the stain.

They tell me to sit. I stop bleeding. Ingrid cleans my shoulder would and dresses it. She also washes the blood out of my hair. I feel embarrassed that someone is doing all this for me.

I tell her not to. I tell her I can do it myself. I tell her I can bathe in the ocean. She won't hear a word of it.

I ask Jon for whiskey to help the pain. He says, "No."

I oddly get hungry and that's a good sign. They cook me fried chicken and rice and potatoes and get me a few coconuts.

Ingrid is convinced I broke a bone. We're going to go to the hospital tomorrow for an X-ray.

My friend says I'll know if I broke a bone in the middle of the night. He says I'll wake up and feel unbearable pain.

Ingrid makes me take off my bloody shirt. She says she'll wash it.

* * *

I wake up in the middle of the night. I have some pain. I pop a pill. The pain eases. I can fall asleep again.

I'm worried that I broke a bone. But it's not too painful.

* * *

I sleep well. In the morning, I notice that there are some blood stains on the sheets but not much. I'm getting better.

* * *

After waiting an hour in the hospital, I see the manager to see if I could be seen. She does her best, but the guy controlling the line doesn't move it.

There's sick and injured people everywhere. They look miserable. I imagine Hell to look like this. Lots of injured people and the line doesn't move. Nobody appears to be in charge. You can come in. But you can never leave. Guards are at the gate to make sure you pay the hospital before you leave. No discharge papers - no leaving.

One lady who looks like a prostitute comes in. The police punched her in the stomach and ribs. She's screaming that she's in so much pain and that she wishes she was dead. She salivates like a rabid dog.

Bored, I walk through the hospital and see all the dying people. An old lady doesn't have an eye. An old guy is gasping for life. This is the House of the Dying. And some director can film Resident Evil or a zombie movie here. It actually reminds me of the set of 28 Days Later.

Jon gets smart and hears the old guy who controls the line say he's hungry. So Jon bought him snacks. After, the guy who controls the line puts our papers at the top of the list.

In 20 minutes, I got X-ray'd, the X-ray was developed and analyzed.

The doctor said there was no broken bones or fractures.

I'm relieved.

The doctor says, "You're very lucky that propeller didn't rip off your arm."

I shudder even thinking about it. I told him, "I imagine Hell to look like this.

He smiles and says, enjoy it while you're in here."

* * *

After buying Jon a nice dinner in the city, we can't get back to the beach. It's too late. So, his mother is happy to receive us. We sleep in the attic. We sleep well.

We leave in the morning.

* * *

Back at the beach - we try to find the name of the driver of the boat. Apparently, he went into hiding.

We find out his nephew also killed someone recently. The boy was 14 year old local and swimming. The propeller ripped into his head and cut into his brain. He was a friend of the boy who lives at the hostel. The boy who lives here seems to want to go after the driver more than I do.

I keep imagining what would have happened if that boat hit me full on in the head. Would I have died? I don't want to think about it. But that was such a close call.

Later, I go see the bar and the doctor and Nacho. And everyone is happy to see that I'm alive and well. We chat for a few hours. I buy a few beers. I thank everyone.

I can use my right arm and eat again. I'm recovering quickly.

* * *
An Appointment in Cartagena
by Paul Cook

There once was a lawyer who was swimming in the Caribbean waters. But he saw Death with his sickle approach him, and he immediately dove in the water. Death swiped his sickle into the sea and wounded the lawyer's shoulder and head and scraped his neck. But, Death did not take him that day. The lawyer was harmed, but alive. 

A few days later, the attorney was at the hospital from the damage, and Death was there - only this time, not for him. So the lawyer approached Death and asked him, "Why did you come for me, when it was not my time?"

And Death said, "It was your time. I was asked to take you. But I was cheated."

"Who cheated you?"

"That, you will have to find out. Remember your scars. They are scars of blood and salt and water. Until next time, Counselor. Until, next time. We will have to play again.

"Lawyers," Death said, shaking his head. "Never easy, but one less is always better."

At that point, Death took the arm of an elderly gentleman and walked out of the hospital with him and waved good bye to the lawyer.

* * *

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20b-21, NIV).

Cheating Death by Cain
(Permission to reprint received 3 of Feb. 2018.)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Exposed: Felon and Disbarred Attorney Gives Thousands to Monica Garcia to Run for Senate

Raquel "Monica" Garcia accepts
thousands from loan sharks, fraudsters,
drug dealers, and disbarred attorneys.
(C) San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Convicted felon, professional fraudster, and disbarred attorney, Cristeta Paguirigan* of the law firm Albright, Yee & Schmit, gave Baldwin Park Councilwoman Raquel "Monica" Garcia thousands of dollars to run for California State Senate. And of course, Garcia happily accepted.

According to the LA Times, after already being disbarred, Paguirigan was sentenced to three years in prison for misrepresenting herself as an attorney in good standing, which she did in order to defraud 11 victims of $32,000. In total, she stole $320,000. Prior to this conviction, the California Supreme Court summarily disbarred Paguirigan for forging a witnesses' signature in a criminal case. The disbarred attorney was also convicted of embezzlement.

Nonetheless, the disbarment didn't stop Paguirigan from profiting in corrupt politics. Around 2003, even after disbarment, Paguirigan worked for the Treasurer of South Gate, Albert Robles - who was also later convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. The LA Times alleges that during this period, Paguirigan, as a litigation consultant, billed the City of South Gate $350,000 in a year.

According to the LA Times, the FBI raided the Albright firm for over billing the City of South Gate in the millions. The City of South Gate sought to recover $.18 million from the Albright firm. During this time, Council Member Ricardo Pacheco was working as the director of the Public Works Department, until he was forced to resign because of allegations of harassment.

The question remains: Why would such a criminal, skilled in the craft of embezzlement and fraud, give so much money to Garcia? There are perhaps two reasons, and both of them follow the Watergate Proverb: "Follow the money."

(1) Did Paguirigan's law firm, which gave $8,800 (including Paguirigan's contribution) to Garcia, reap a benefit?

(2) Did Garcia vote to give the marijuana business, who work with Paguirigan's consulting firm, the Jade Effect LLC, marijuana licenses? (According to the California Secretary of State, Paguirigan is the designated agent of the Jade Effect.)

Both options make it appear that Garcia's vote is available to anybody who is willing to pay.

Regarding the first point, in 2017, the City of Baldwin Park paid Albright, Yee, & Schmit at least $206,458.20. The bulk of the law firm's work has been to restrict the rights of citizens from engaging in Free Speech. It has also defended the city from being transparent by preventing the release of records. Nonetheless, the federal court has obviously held, contrary to the city's undemocratic position, that signs depicting politicians as corrupt donkeys is Free Speech under the First Amendment.

Regarding the second point, around December 14, 2017, the Jade Effect received a benefit from the City of Baldwin Park when it awarded marijuana licenses to the three associated businesses that purchase the Jade Effect's services. According to city staff (who wish to remain unidentified), the three businesses awarded marijuana licenses in connection with Jade Effect are RD Baldwin Park; Cloud Control, Inc.; and Medical Grade Farms BP. In doing so, the circumstantial evidence suggest that Paguirigan was the middle women who negotiated licenses for these businesses for a profit.

Hence, it suggests that Monica only casted her vote for these businesses in exchange for Paguirigan's generous campaign contribution. This is consistent with the fact that Garcia has received money from other marijuana businesses, all of which have also received her vote to be granted a marijuana license. According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Garcia received money from a business partner in RUKLI, Inc. Rukli was also conveniently granted a marijuana license and sole distribution rights of marijuana in the City of Baldwin Park.

After being confronted about whether she was bribed, Garcia responded by saying that such allegations are all "politically motivated." In fact, she maintains that her vote is what she believes is "in the best interest of my community[.]"

In any event, Garcia only appears to be following in the wake of Baldwin Park's Chief of Police, Michael Taylor, who also received at least $17,000 in drug money to fund his campaign to become a public official on the West Valley Water Board. In fact, Garcia and Taylor both received campaign contributions from the same donor: Sharon Bertshatski of RUKLI, Inc. Currently, investigations are showing that Taylor's tale to office is looking more like the Rampart Scandal, only here a Chief of Police rises to fame by being funded by drug money.

But we can't lose sight of the forest. The greater scandal here may be the fact that Garcia may be running a scam election. According to Mike Eng's website, Garcia supports Mike Eng, her competitor, for state senate. Why then is she running against him?

Garcia may be using the state senate race to collect campaign donations, of which she has already collected $70,550**. Then after dropping out early, Garcia would have a new boon of $70,550 dollars to spend by herself; for herself. The senate race would then be a front and channel for Garcia to raise money for two types of favors - those that need to be done and those that have already been done.

Really, Garcia's dark economic transactions, evidenced in her campaign contributions, expose a more global problem - which is the brokenness and undemocratic character of our political and economic system. Our elected representatives are meant to make decisions that are supposed to be in the best interest of the citizen majority, which is why democracy is promoted to be "For the people, by the people." But here, it looks like such decisions are easily bought from politicians in order serve the highest bidder, which comes at the cost of the majority and their hard earned tax money.

Nevertheless, Garcia refuses to step down as a city council member. Instead, as a result of becoming more unpopular with the citizens of Baldwin Park, Garcia has resorted to repressive measures to silence dissenters, especially those who attempt to dispel her image as a naive and innocent political player. Feeling threatened by the increasing exposure of her corruption, Garcia filed a lawsuit to shut up one of her most vocal critics, local business owner and race car hobbyist, Greg Tuttle.

Her reason?

Garcia alleged that it was a life threatening emergency to obtain a restraining order because Tuttle was apparently writing that Garcia has sex with her dog. Garcia told the court that her life was also threatened because Tuttle was also calling her "Honey" and "Political Prostitute." (Unbelievable as it sounds, this really is a true story.)

The court, however, denied Garcia's order and found her to be "unreasonable." 

Tuttle stated, "I never wrote that she [Garcia] has sex with her dog. I did call her a Political Prostitute, though. She takes money from anyone for anything. And yes, in my book, that makes her a Political Prostitute." (Perhaps it's prescient that Tuttle stated all this almost a year and a half before Garcia filed her campaign contribution form.)

To further soil her reputation for uncleanliness, Tuttle says that Monica is unhygienic. He alleges that Monica doesn't shower before council meetings. Tuttle stated, "She had a funky smell in one of these council meetings. She definitely didn't shower before coming in. It could make you throw up."

John Rios, another critic of Garcia, was also present at the council meeting that day and confirmed smelling an awful odor coming from her.

It begs the question: Does something smell rotten in Baldwin Park?

Garcia's campaign contribution forms for California Senate of 2018 seems to suggest so. In fact, Garcia's forms look more like the black book of the criminal underworld - comprised of world class fraudsters, drug dealers, and loan sharks. Unfortunately, Monica Garcia's life drives home the bleak point: Only in crime, prostitution, and politics does one need to take money from anybody to make a living.

*Cristeta Paguirigan also goes by Klaparda and Criseta Paguirigian-Summers. It is well known that multiple aliases are used by career criminals.
**This sum excludes the money Garcia loaned herself.