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Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

OH, CRAP(O)!

In Law, Politics, Social commentary on December 31, 2012 at 3:08 pm

At the end of the 1987 movie, “The Untouchables,” a reporter accosts Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner): “Mr. Ness, they’re saying that Congress will repeal Prohibition.  If that happens, what will you do?”

And Ness–who has just spent the entire movie trying to put arch-bootlegger Al Capone out of business–replies: “I think I’ll have a drink.”

“The Untouchables” (1987)

In 1920, America went “dry”–officially.

The reason: Congressional passage of the Volstead Act–named after Andrew Volstead, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who managed the legislation.

For Americans generally, the law had a shorter name: Prohibition.

For 12 years–from 1920 to 1932–the United States Treasury Department declared war on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages throughout the country.

It was a losing war.  Untold numbers of local police officers gladly turned a blind eye–for a price–to the bootleggers operating in their midst.  So did legions of agents of the Treasury Department’s Prohibition Bureau.

And police weren’t the only ones willing to ignore the law.  So were politicians at all levels.  At the highest level: Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States.

Warren G. Harding

Harding allowed bootleg whiskey to be served to his guests during after-dinner parties.  Some of this alcohol had been confiscated from the Prohibition department.  His wife, Florence, known as “The Duchess,” mixed drinks for the visitors.

There was definitely a “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” morality at work during the 12 years that Prohibition was the law of the land.

Many of those public officials (and private citizens) who regularly indulged felt the law was needed to enforce “morality” onto others–especially the poor and immirgants.

Prohibition ended in 1932–to the sorrow of two major organizations.  The first was anti-alcohol groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  The second was the Mafia–which had raised millions of dollars via the sale of forbidden spirits.

Today Americans (except those living in officially “dry” states like Florida, Georgia and Alabama) can easily and legally obtain all the booze they can afford to buy.

But even in “wet” states, it’s illegal to drink and drive–as third-term United States Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) recently found out.

Mike Crapo

On December 23, Crapo was arrested in Alexandria, Virginia, for driving under the influence.

Crapo was pulled over after an officer saw him run a red light.

According to CBS News, Crapo failed several field sobriety tests and was taken into custody without incident.  He was later released on an unsecured $1,000 bond.

He must appear in court on January 4th.

At a time when America stands poised to go over “the fiscal cliff” courtesy of Republican extortion demands, it’s hardly reassuring hat Crapo is slated to take the top GOP spot on the Senate Banking Committee.

But there’s more to this tale than mere political embarrassment.  There’s also a story of religious hypocrisy to be told.

Crapo is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–the Mormons.  He graduated from the church’s Brigham Young University in 1973  with a B.A. in political science.

Among those acts that Mormons are forbidden to partake in is the drinking of alcohol.  It’s part of the “Word of Wisdom” embraced by staunch church members: A ban on any use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea.

Indulging in any of these won’t get you excommunicated (as will, say, adultery or murder, which the church puts on the same level of evil).  But it can get you banned from entering a Mormon temple, reserved for only the most devout members.

It is in their temples that Mormons perform such rituals as wedding ceremonies and proxy “baptisms for the dead.”

This must inevitably come as a huge embarrassment for a man who represents Idaho, a state:

  • Where government maintains a monopoly over sales of beverages with greater than 16% ABV;
  • Where beer can be sold in grocery stores but not wine;
  • Where the sale of distilled spirits is allowed only in certified Liquor Dispensary stores;
  • Where  311,425  Mormons comprise the largest single religious group–at 23% of the population.

Thus, no one should be surprised that Crapo quickly released the following statement:

“I am deeply sorry for the actions that resulted in this circumstance.  I made a mistake for which I apologize to my family, my Idaho constituents and any others who have put their trust in me.

“I accept total responsibility and will deal with whatever penalty comes my way in this matter.  I will also undertake measures to ensure that this circumstance is never repeated.”

If Crapo becomes the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, a major target for him will be the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Republicans believe is too powerful and needs to be weakened.

Democrats believe the Bureau is a major achievement of the Dodd-Frank financial law–passed by Congress to prevent a repeat of the 2008 Wall Street “meltdown” caused by the unchecked greed of speculators.

So if Crapo’s status is undermined by his recent bout with DUI, American consumers may well be the beneficiaries.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

In Politics, Social commentary on December 28, 2012 at 1:51 am

“MAN OF THE PEOPLE” MITT ROMNEY: SAVIOR OF AMERICA’S YACHTS

“Both Mitt and I have summer places up in New Hampshire on Lake Winnipesaukee.  And a few summers ago I was taking my grandchildren and children to town in the boat for ice cream. 

“And we got into the docks and they were all full and I locked around, there was no place to  park, so we stopped at the end of a dock. 

“They all jumped off and ran up the dock.  And I realized there was nobody in the boat to help me dock the boat, handle the ropes, do anything–they just left me out there at sea. 

“So I finally found a place to park after about 20 minutes, and I pulled in.  I said, ‘Who’s going to grab the rope?’ 

“And I looked up and there was Mitt Romney. 

“So he pulled me in, he tied up the boat for me.  He rescued me, just as he’s going to rescue this great country.” 

–Bill Marriott, Executive Chairman of Marriott International, speaking at a fund-raiser for Mitt Romney, September 27, 2012

THREE VIEWS OF AN OUTRAGE: GOOD, BAD AND UGLY – PART TWO (END)

In History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 27, 2012 at 1:09 am

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee had a ready explanation for the slaughter of 20 six- and -seven-year-old schoolchildren and six faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Speaking on Fox News, Huckabee said: “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools.  Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

This was not the first time Huckabee blamed the victims of violence rather than the National Rifle Association–which has struggled mightily to arm even hardened criminals and the mentally ill with high-powered weaponry.

Last July, immediately following the massacre at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado, Huckabee offered the same explanation for a rampage that left 12 dead and 58 wounded.

Appearing on the right-wing TV show, “Fox and Friends,” he said:

“We don’t have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem.

“And since we’ve ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations, you know we really shouldn’t act so surprised…when all hell breaks loose.”

This totally overlooked such truths as:

  • The United States is an overwhelmingly Christian nation, with 91% of Americans saying they believe in God.
  • Long before the Supreme Court outlawed compulsory prayer in public schools in 1962, American society was filled with mindless violence.
  • Merely claiming affinity with Christianity doesn’t guarantee pacifism: The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition were carried out by order of the highest officials of the Catholic Church.
  • Being a non-Christian doesn’t guarantee peace with one’s neighbors: The Middle East is peopled by warring Muslims and Jews who both claim a divine right to “the Holy Land.”

Stung by criticism for the insensitivity of his blame-the-victim mentality in the Sandy Hook slaughter, Huckabee tried to “clarify” his remarks.

Once again appearing on Fox News–the preferred network of American fascists–Huckabee said:

“I’m not suggesting by any stretch that if we had prayer in schools regularly as we once did that this wouldn’t have happened, because you can’t have that kind of cause and effect.  

“But we’ve created an atmosphere in this country where the only time you want to invoke God’s name is after the tragedy.”

In short: If we just prayed more, these sorts of outrages wouldn’t happen.

Addressing an enthusiastic audience at the NRA’s annual convention in 2011, Huckabee said:  “I stand here tonight as a gun-clinger and a God-clinger … unapologetically!”

For a self-proclaimed “pro-lifer” who bitterly opposes abortion, Huckabee didn’t fault the NRA for championing

  • “cop-killer” bullets which pierce bulletproof vests;
  • “concealed weapons” clothing for anyone–criminals included–who wants to buy them; or
  • “stand-your-ground” laws which give every citizen a 007 license to kill.

President Barack Obama’s reaction to the Sandy Hook slaughter was that of a father empathizing with the loss of other parents.

Huckabee’s reaction was that of a gun lobbyist seeking a way to avoid criticizing those who make high-capacity weaponry available to even the mentally ill.

The reaction of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) can best be described as the pornography of hate and bullying.

On December 15–one day after the slaughter–its spokeswoman, Shirley Phelps-Roper, tweeted that the group would protest the vigil in Newtown, Conn., to “sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.”

The “church’ claims that “God hates fags” and “same-sex marriage is the doom of this evil nation.”

Its website states:

“WBC has suffered unrelieved reproach for warning you.

“Now, we will happily assist in the administration of the universal outpouring of God’s wrath, which shall imminently commence with the brightness of His coming.”

The “church” has picketed the funerals of Armed Services members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It celebrates each death as proof of God’s wrath on a nation that tolerates homosexuality.

To combat these outrages, Congress passed a bill on August 2, 2012 that restricted demonstrations at military funerals. Demonstrators are not allowed to picket from two hours before the funeral service until two hours after, and must stay at least 300 feet away from grieving family members.

After WBC tweeted that it would protest the funerals in Newtown, it got a new enemy: The hacktivist group, Anonymous.

“We will not allow you to corrupt the minds of America with your seeds of hatred,” the group warned in a video posted to the Internet. “We will not allow you to inspire aggression to the social factions which you deem inferior. We will render you obsolete. We will destroy you. We are coming.”

So take your choice:

  • The mature, sympathetic parent approach of President Obama.
  • The blame-the-victim approach of Mike Huckabee.
  • The America-deserves-to-grieve-because-it-tolerates-fags approach of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Just remember this truth: “Tell me whom you admire, and I will tell you who you are.”

THREE VIEWS OF AN OUTRAGE: GOOD, BAD AND UGLY – PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 26, 2012 at 12:06 am

“Tell me who you admire,” goes the saying, “and I will tell you who you are.”

And the views of those we admire have a big impact on our own attitudes.

On December 14, Adam Lanza, a mentally deranged 20-year-old, murdered his own mother, Nancy, with her own .22 Marlin rifle, as she slept in bed.

Then, using his mother’s car, he drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Wearing black military-style gear, including a bulletproof vest and mask, he began a rampage of killing with his mother’s seni-automatic Bushmaster MX-15.

Firing between 50 and 100 rounds, he slaughtered 20 schoolchildren–eight boys and 12 girls, between six and seven years old.  His victims included six adults–all women who worked at the school.

Among these were the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and the school psychologist, Mary Sherlach.

Then, as police rushed to the school, Lanza shot  himself in the head.

The next day, December 15, President Barack Obama gave his weekly radio address.  The United States stood on the edge of “the fiscal cliff,” with Republicans and Democrats locked in combat over raising taxes on the rich.

But there could be only one subject for the President’s address that day.

He delivered his remarks in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, named for the former press secretary to President Ronald Reagan who was shot and critically wounded during an attempt on the then-president’s life in 1981:

“On Friday, we learned that more than two dozen people were killed when a gunman opened fire in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

“Most of those who died were just young children with their whole lives ahead of them.  And every parent in America has a heart heavy with hurt.

“Among the fallen were also teachers – men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.

“So our hearts are broken today.  We grieve for the families of those we lost.  And we keep in our prayers the parents of those who survived. 

“Because as blessed as they are to have their children home, they know that their child’s innocence has been torn away far too early.

“As a nation, we have endured far too many of these tragedies in the last few years.  An elementary school in Newtown.  A shopping mall in Oregon. 

“A house of worship in Wisconsin.  A movie theater in Colorado.  Countless street corners in places like Chicago and Philadelphia.

“Any of these neighborhoods could be our own.  So we have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this. Regardless of the politics.

“This weekend, Michelle and I are doing what I know every parent is doing – holding our children as close as we can and reminding them how much we love them.

“There are families in Connecticut who can’t do that today.  And they need all of us now.

“Because while nothing can take the place of a lost child or loved one, all of us can extend a hand to those in need – to remind them that we are there for them; that we are praying for them; and that the love they felt for those they lost endures not just in their own memories, but also in their community, and their country.”

Although famous for keeping his cool, on this occasion, Obama teared up several times and had to pause, so clearly affected was he by the carnage of this latest national tragedy.

Without false histrionics or trying to guess at the motives of the killer, Obama spoke simply and directly to the hearts of the families and friends of the murdered victims.

But Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and failed Presidential candidate, had a far different view of the massacre–and what lay behind it.

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?

“We’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability — that we’re not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before, you know, a holy God in judgment.  

“If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that.”

He said those suffering from a crisis from faith should look to God in the community’s response to the violence.

But he added that “Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”

In short, a score of six- and seven-year-olds had somehow brought this carnage onto themselves.  And so had those six unarmed adults who had tried to shield them from death.

HOW TO CURB FUTURE GUN OUTRAGES

In History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 25, 2012 at 12:16 am

The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

–Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968

Senator Robert F. Kennedy announcing the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

How can the friends and relatives of those 20 children and six adults massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School seek justice for those they loved?

First, don’t count on politicians to support a ban on assault weapons.

Politicians–with rare exceptions–have only two goals:

  1. Get elected to office, and
  2. Stay in office.

And too many of them fear the economic and voting clout of the National Rifle Association (NRA) to risk its wrath.

On July 22–only two days after the Century 16 Theater slaughter in Aurora, Colorado–U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said: “The fact of the matter is there are 30-round magazines that are just common all over the place.

“You simply can’t keep these weapons out of the hands of sick, demented individuals who want to do harm.  And when you try and do it, you restrict our freedom.”

That presumably includes the freedom of would-be mass murderers to carry out their fantasies.

Second, those who survived the massacre–and the relatives and friends of those who didn’t–should file wrongful death, class-action lawsuits against the NRA.

There is sound, legal precedent for this.

  • For decades, the American tobacco industry peddled death and disability to millions and reaped billions of dollars in profits.
  • The industry vigorously claimed there was no evidence that smoking caused cancer, heart disease, emphysema or any other ailment.

  • Tobacco companies spent billions on slick advertising campaigns to win new smokers and attack medical warnings about the dangers of smoking.
  • Tobacco companies spent millions to elect compliant politicians and block anti-smoking legislation.
  • From 1954 to 1994, over 800 private lawsuits were filed against tobacco companies in state courts. But only two plaintiffs prevailed, and both of those decisions were reversed on appeal.
  • In 1994, amidst great pessimism, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry.  But other states soon followed, ultimately growing to 46.
  • Their goal: To seek monetary, equitable and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and anti-trust laws.
  • The theory underlying these lawsuits was: Cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry created health problems among the population, which badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.
  • In 1998, the states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related, health-care costs.  In return, they exempted the companies from private lawsuits for tobacco-related injuries.
  • The companies agreed to curtail or cease certain marketing practices.  They also agreed to pay, forever, annual payments to the states to compensate some of the medical costs for patients with smoking-related illnesses.

The parallels with the NRA are obvious:

  • For decades, the NRA has peddled deadly weapons to millions, reaped billions of dollars in profits and refused to admit the carnage those weapons have produced: “Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.”  With guns.

  • The NRA has bitterly fought background checks on gun-buyers, in effect granting even criminals and the mentally ill the right to own arsenals of death-dealing weaponry.
  • The NRA has spent millions on slick advertising campaigns to win new members and frighten them into buying guns.

  • The NRA has spent millions on political contributions to block gun-control legislation.
  • The NRA has spent millions attacking political candidates and elected officials who warned about the dangers of unrestricted access to assault and/or concealed weapons.

  • The NRA has spent millions pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws in more than half the states, which potentially give every citizen a “license to kill.”
  • The NRA receives millions of dollars from online sales of ammunition, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and other accessories through its point-of-sale Round-Up Program–thus directly profiting by selling a product that kills about 30,288 people a year.

  • Firearms made indiscriminately available through NRA lobbying have filled hospitals–such as those in Newtown–with casualties, and have thus badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.

It will take a series of highly expensive and well-publicized lawsuits to significantly weaken the NRA, financially and politically.

The first ones will have to be brought by the surviving victims of gun violence–and by the friends and families of those who did not survive it.  Only they will have the courage and motivation to take such a risk.

As with the cases first brought against tobacco companies, there will be losses.  And the NRA will rejoice with each one.

But, in time, state Attorneys General will see the clear parallels between lawsuits filed against those who peddle death by cigarette and those who peddle death by armor-piercing bullet.

And then the NRA–like the tobacco industry–will face an adversary wealthy enough to stand up for the rights of the gun industry’s own victims.

Only then will those politicians supporting reasonable gun controls dare to stand up for the victims of such needless tragedies as the one in Newtown, Connecticut.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART EIGHT (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help on December 24, 2012 at 12:05 am

So you’ve decided to sue the airline you believe wronged you.

One option is to do so in small claims court.

A plus is you don’t need an attorney. In fact, you’re barred from bringing in an attorney. You represent yourself, which means you don’t have to pay an attorney–either up-front or at the end of the case.

Another plus: It will cost you far less to represent yourself than it will cost the airline to send a representative. If you file in California and the airline is headquartered in New York, it will be expensive for them to send a rep to attend the proceedings. If the airline fails to send someone as its representative–which is highly unlikely–it loses by default.

A minus is that you may not be the confrontational type.  You may also feel intimidated by the legal process–and afraid of looking like an idiot if you lose.

Another minus is that each state sets a different amount you can win in damages.  To learn about the rules applying to small claims courts in your state, consult the following link: Click here: 50 State Overview of Small Claims Rules | Nolo.com.

A second option is to take your case to civil court.

A plus is that the dollar-amount you can obtain at this level is far higher than in small-claims court.

A minus is that you’ll definitely want to retain an attorney.

True, you can legally represent yourself.  But aviation law is complex.  The airline will definitely have an attorney, so if you don’t, you’re bringing a knife to a gunfight.

If you can find an attorney willing to represent you on a contingency fee basis, you don’t have to pay him unless you win.  His fee will then come out of your settlement amount.

Another minus: If you can’t find an attorney willing to take your case on this basis, you’ll have to pay him by the hour, after first putting up a retainer fee, which can be quite large.

A third minus is that the courts are clogged with cases, and it can take months or even years before yours will be heard.

And remember: The vast majority of cases–civil and criminal–are settled outside of court.  In civil cases especially, judges strongly urge both sides to reach a compromise rather than duke it out in court.

And both sides are usually willing to do this, since there’s no telling how a jury might rule.

Finally, there’s the option of filing a class-action lawsuit.

A plus to this is that you’re not alone in your charge against the airline.  Other passengers who have been similarly wronged are seeking damages, and so the spotlight is not on any one plaintiff.

A minus is that such cases are extremely complex and must be handled by experienced attorneys.  Typically, federal courts are thought to be more favorable for defendants, and state courts more favorable for plaintiffs. Many class actions are filed initially in state court. The defendant will frequently try to remove the case to federal court.

Another minus: If your side prevails, the amount of money each plaintiff receives will be far smaller than if the award were to be divided between a single plaintiff and his attorney(s).

Finally, even if you win, you can be certain the airline will appeal the verdict.  Such appeals can go on for literally years.

On a more far-reaching basis, you can demand that your Congressional representatives support passenger rights through legislation.

Protections are especially needed when a single airline official–such as a steward–kicks a passenger off an airplane for reasons that have nothing to do with security.

(Examples:

  • Two women kissing;
  • a steward demanding whether a woman is wearing underwear;
  • another steward taking offense at a passenger’s request for help.)

During the administration of President George H.W. Bush, Congress overrode only one of his 44 vetoes.  In that case, Congress put a cap on the rates cable TV companies could charge.

They did so because their constituents had made clear their rage about high-priced fees.

Members of the Senate and House of Representatives will respond to constituent demands:

  1. If enough voters make their specific demands known; and
  2. If those voters make clear that ignoring their demands will guarantee defeat at the next election.

There are consumer rights organizations now pressing for vitally-needed passenger protections.  These organizations need support–both in terms of members and money.

Only then can they counter the legalized bribes (known as “campaign contributions) the airlines offer to members of Congress.

An example is Flyers Rights, which can be reached at: FlyersRights.ORG – Largest Non-Profit
Airline Consumer Organization.

Above all, remember: Airlines are run by corporations.

Their foremost concern is not your comfort or even safety as a passenger.  It’s with further enriching their key executives.

You must be willing to stand up for your own rights–because the airline couldn’t care less about them.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART SEVEN (OF EIGHT)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help on December 21, 2012 at 12:05 am

You can’t get the airline to take your complaint seriously but you don’t want to file a lawsuit.

So now what do you do?

You could file a complaint with one or more consumer complaint websites.  Just remember:

  • What you say online can hurt you.
  • Accuse someone of criminal or shameful behavior, and you can be sued for libel.
  • Threaten someone with exposure or financial ruin aunless he pays you money and you can be privately sued and/or criminally prosecuted for extortion.
  • And once you click on the “Send” button, there’s no recalling your email.

Review the guidelines offered in Part Six of this series on how to safely craft your letter/email.

Below is a partial list of consumer complaint websites.  No endorsement is implied by this listing.  It’s offered simply to illustrate the variety of such websites available.

http://www.pissedconsumer.com/ - Pissed Consumer (complaints only)

http://www.measuredup.com/ - Measured Up (“Customers Review / Businesses Reply / Everybody Wins”)

http://www.complaints.com/ - Complaints (post and research consumer complaints)

http://www.thesqueakywheel.com/ - The Squeaky Wheel (submits your complaint to google)

http://www.consumercomplaintagency.org/ - Consumer Complaint Agency (“Take [unspecified] action on your behalf”)

https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/ - Federal Trade Commission (does not resolve individual consumer complaints)

http://www.complaintnow.com/ - Complaint Now (complaints only)

http://hissingkitty.com/ - Hissing Kitty (posts your complaint on Google, Yahoo, and Bing)

http://www.airlinecomplaints.org/ - Airline Complaints (complaints only)

http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/problems.htm - Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement (U.S. Department of Transportation) (complaints)

http://www.airsafe.com/complain/complain.htm - Air Safe (“critical information for the traveling public”)

http://www.consumeraffairs.com/travel/airlines.html - Consumer Affairs (complaints only)

Your first impulse will probably be to immediately file your complaint with a website like one of these.

Don’t do it.

Instead, try to resolve your problem (assuming it can be resolved) with the airline.

Why?  Two reasons:

  1. You may be able to obtain what you want at that level, without having to do anything more.
  2. If you don’t give the airline the chance to address your grievance, you will be accused of pursuing a vendetta.  This will be especially true if you later sue the airline.

Use websites like these as a fallback option–in case you’re unable to can’t resolve your problem with the airlines.

And, frankly, there’s a good chance you won’t.

In its September 3, 2009 issue, Time magazine warned that calling the airlines’ customer complaint lines would likely prove a waste of time.

The major carriers have, quietly, made it steadily more difficult for customers to reach a person with their complaints. “The airlines don’t want to talk to their  customers,” says John Tschohl, a consultant to businesses on customer service.

Even the few airlines that still have customer-service numbers bury them deep within their websites.  Finding them is often as much a matter of luck as persistence.

So as advised in Part Five of this series: Don’t waste your time with the Customer Service line.  Go directly to the topmost official(s) of the airline and make it clear why it’s in their best interests to resolve your problem.  Then, if you can’t find a workable solution, file your complaint with as many consumer-protection websites as possible.

You can also file complaints with one or more federal agencies that hold jurisdiction over the airlines.

If your complaint is safety related, address it to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at:

Assistant Administrator for System Safety ASY-100

Federal Aviation Administration

800 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20591

1-866-835-5322

Click here: Contact the Aviation Safety Hotline

If your complaint involves security, direct it to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  You can reach this by phone at 866-289-9673 or by e-mail at tsa-contactcenter@dhs.gov.

A final option is to sue the airline.

For most people, bringing in a lawyer is like bringing up the heavy artillery.  When should you do so?

Christopher Elliott, author, consumer advocate and journalist, outlines “five times when you should consider skipping the complaints process and going straight to court:

  1. When they’re playing games.
  2. When they’ve broken a contract.
  3. When they’re being dishonest.
  4. When they’re ignoring you.
  5. When they aren’t listening to reason.

Elliott’s webpage contains a wealth of practical advice for those who’ve had their fill of airline arrogance.  It can be accessed thus: Click here: See you in court: 5 times when you should just sue ‘em.

Yet another must-read for those wondering if they should file suit: Click here: Lies the Airlines Tell Us – ABC News

Assuming you decide to sue, there are three ways to do this:

  1. In small claims court.
  2. In regular civil court as an individual claimant.
  3. As part of a class-action lawsuit.

Each approach has its own series of pluses and minuses.  I’ll explore these in my next column.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART SIX (OF EIGHT)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help on December 20, 2012 at 12:00 am

For your complaint to be addressed, it must first be put in writing–whether in a letter and/or an email.  Most likely, several letters and/or emails.

Even in our video-oriented society, the written word still carries far greater weight than the spoken one.  A document can be used as evidence in a civil lawsuit.

If you cringe at writing it yourself, you can ask someone else to write it for you.  But if s/he lacks excellent judgment and literary skills, you’ll be no better-off.

At best, the letter will prove ineffective and be ignored.  At worst, it could open you to charges of libel and/or extortion.

And even if the person can write an effective letter on your behalf, chances are you’ll have to pay for that service.

If you decide to write the letter yourself, you’ll find highly effective advice in Shocked, Appalled, and Dismayed: How to Write Letters of Complaint That Get Results, by Ellen Phillips.

Product Details

Click here: Amazon.com: Shocked, Appalled, and Dismayed! How to Write Letters of Complaint That Get Results (9780375701207): E

Among the subjects she covers–in detail–are:

  • Who to write to, what to say, what to ask for.
  • The names and addresses of over 600 major companies.
  • How to draft personal petitions covering everything from tenant-landlord disputes to workman’s compensation.
  • What steps to take to avoid litigation.

My own tips for writing a successful complaint letter are:

  • Remove any vulgar or profane words. 
  • Don’t make sweeping accusations: “Your agency is a waste.” 
  • Stick to facts you know can be proved: The who, what, when, where, how and why of reporting.
  • Don’t attribute motives to people you’ve had problems with.  You don’t know why someone did what he did.
  • Cite the names and titles of any airline employees who (1) witnessed the reason for your complaint, or (2) were witnesses to it.
  • Show how the failure of the official to address your problem reflects badly on the company: “This is not the level of service your ads would lead potential customers to expect.”
  • If there is a specific action the airline can take to redress your complaint, be sure to mention it.  (You can be so angry when making a complaint that you forget to say what you want the company to do to resolve it.)
  • Be reasonable and realistic in what you ask for. 
  • If you want reimbursement for expenses you had to make (such as hotel lodgings) owing to the airline’s fault, then provide copies of receipts.
  • Emphasize your desire to resolve the complaint amicably and privately within the company.
  • If necessary, note any regulatory agencies that can make life rough for the company if your complaint isn’t resolved. 
  • Cite the applicable law(s) under which it can be sued: “According to the Passenger Bill of Rights….”
  • Make certain the airline knows you expect a reply within a certain length of time: “I would appreciate your response within the next 10 business days.”

Of course, your overture(s) may be ignored.  Or you might feel the airline has not made a good-faith effort to compensate you.

In either case, you have two more courses of action to pursue.

  1. Threatening the airlines with bad publicity; and
  2. Threatening the airlines with a private lawsuit.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s far easier to spread the word about companies that mistreat their customers.

“Fly the Friendly Skies” is no longer n advertising slogan (even at United Airlines, which popularized it).  But airlines spend millions of dollars a year on selling just that image of themselves.

So anything that threatens to throw mud on that image is guaranteed to set off alarm-bells at corporate headquarters.  Especially if that mud is well-deserved.

An easy way to avenge airline mistreatment is to make full use of a wide array of consumer-opinion websites.

It’s important to check out each website carefully to increase your chances of having your complaint resolved.

  • Most websites simply offer a forum to vent your spleen.
  • Others promise to take various forms of action on your behalf–such as directing your complaint to the airline or a government agency.
  • Others offer to refer your complaint to an attorney.
  • Many of these are free.
  • Others charge a nominal fee (such as $5) for posting your complaint.
  • Some complaint websites are run by the Federal Government–such as those of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Some are run by individual states–such as the Office of the California Attorney General.
  • The major airlines provide “file a complaint” pages on their websites.

WARNING: What you say online can hurt you. Accuse someone of criminal or shameful behavior, and you can be sued for libel. Threaten someone with exposure or financial ruin and you can be privately sued and/or criminally prosecuted for extortion.

And once you click on the “Send” button, there’s no recalling your email.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART FIVE (OF EIGHT)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help on December 19, 2012 at 12:01 am

Have a complaint against an airline–but don’t want to waste your time with low-level Customer Service reps?

Good.  You’ve just learned what is probably the single most important lesson in bureaucracy-busting: If you want action, seek out those who are empowered to make it happen.

So take your complaint to someone who has the authority to resolve it. This means, preferably, the CEO of the airline, or at least one of his executive colleagues.

But who are these people? And how do you track them down?

You start by realizing that every major airline has a website. And that website can usually be counted on to list the top honchos of the company.

Even if it doesn’t, you can usually obtain this information on the Internet. Go to “google” and type: “[Name of airline] board of directors.”

This should arm you with

  • the name of the CEO;
  • the company’s mailing address;
  • its phone number for reaching its top executives; and
  • its website and/or email address.

Below are listed

  • the names of the CEOs of the major United States airlines
  • their mailing addresses
  • their corporate phone numbers and (where given)
  • their email addresses.

But the corporate world is filled with men (and a few women) who are highly skilled at moving up–by moving others out.  So keep in mind that the names provided below will not be permanent.

Check out the appropriate websites to obtain the latest information before writing that letter and/or making that call.

Send out a letter addressed “To Whom It May Concern” and you’ll instantly be branded as a lightweight.   This only shows that you were too lazy/stupid to find out who holds power in the organization.

Whereas a well-written letter addressed to the key decision maker will instantly warn top executives: “Take this person seriously.”

Now, the airlines:

DELTA AIRLINES

Richard H. Anderson – Chief Executive Officer of Delta since September 1, 2007.

Edward H. Bastian – President of Delta since September 1, 2007.

Email:  Email us
Phone: (404) 715-2600
Mail:
Delta Air Lines, Inc.
P.O. Box 20706
Atlanta, Georgia 30320-6001

Click here: Delta Airlines Board of Directors

AMERICAN AIRLINES

Thomas W. Horton – Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, AMR Corporation / American Airlines, Inc., Fort Worth, Texas.

John W. Bachmann - Senior Partner, Edward Jones, St. Louis, Missouri.

Mail:

P.O. Box 619616

DFW Airport, TX   75261-9616

Phone: (817) 963-1234

Click here: American Airlines Board of Directors

UNITED AIRLINES

Glenn F. Tilton – non-executive chairman of the board of directors of United Continental Holdings, Inc.

Jeffery A. Smisek – President and Chief Executive Officer, United Continental Holdings, Inc.

Oscar Munoz – Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, CSX Corporation

Shareholders and other interested parties may contact the United Continental Holdings, Inc. Board of Directors as a whole, or any individual member, by one of the following means:

  1. writing to the Board of Directors, United Continental Holdings, Inc., c/o the Corporate Secretary’s Office, HDQLD, 77 W. Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60601; or
  2. by emailing the Board of Directors at UALBoard@united.com

If neither of these methods seems to work, try these:

Mail:
P.O. Box 66100
Chicago, IL 60666

Phone (general): (800) (800) 864-8331

Phone Investor Relations: (312) 997-8610

United Continental Holdings, Inc. – Investor Relations – Board of Directors

JETBLUE AIRWAYS

Joel C. Peterson – Independent Chairman of the Board of Jetblue Airways Corporation.

David Barger – President, Chief Executive Officer, Director of JetBlue Airways Corporation.

Mark D. Powers – Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President, Treasurer of JetBlue Airways Corporation.

JetBlue Airways Corporation Corporate Office | Headquarters
118-29 Queens Blvd.
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Phone:  (718) 286-7900
Toll Free: 800) 538-2583

http://www.jetblue.com

AIRTRAN

AirTran Airways is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Southwest Airlines.  Thus, complaints against Airtran should be directed to the top executives of Southwest.

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES

David W. Biegler – Chairman and CEO

Douglas H. Brooks – Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer
Southwest Airlines Corporate Headquarters
Physical Address:
2702 Love Field Drive Dallas, Texas 75235
Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 36611 Dallas, Texas 75235
Telephone: (214) 792-4000 (Main Switchboard)

Click here: Southwest Airlines Investor Relations – Board of Directors

US AIRWAYS

W. Douglas Parker – Chairman of the Board, CEO

Bruce Lakefield – Vice Chairman of the Board, President, CEO

Derek Kerr – Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President

Corporate Contact Information:

Mailing address: US Airways 4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd. Phoenix, AZ 85034 Corporate headquarters: 111 W. Rio Salado Parkway Tempe, AZ 85281 Phone: (480) 693-0800 7 AM – 5 PM Monday – Friday

Daniel E. Cravens

Director,

Investor Relations

US Airways

111 West Rio Salado Parkway

Tempe, AZ 85281

Phone: 480.693.1227

E-mail: Click here: US Airways | Compliments/complaints

Click here: US Airways | Investor relations

Click here: US AIRWAYS GROUP INC (LCC:New York): Board of Directors – Businessweek

ALASKA AIRLINES

William S. Ayer – Chairman

Bradley D. Tilden – President and CEO

Brandon Pederson – Chief Financial Officer

Corporate Offices:

P.O. Box 68900

Seattle, WA   98168

Phone: (206-433-3200

Click here: Executive Leadership – Alaska Airlines

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES

In 2010, Continental Airlines merged with United Airlines.  Direct all inquiries and complaints to United Airlines, whose corporate information is given above.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART FOUR (OF EIGHT)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help on December 18, 2012 at 12:00 am

The concept of “consumer rights” has not yet reached the airline industry.

Under Federal law, as enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration, airline passengers have only the following guaranteed rights:

If your flight is delayed (such as by bad weather) and you’re stuck on the tarnac:

  • Tarnac delays cannot exceed three hours. You can leave the plane if you choose after that.
  • Food and water must be available after the plane has been stuck on the tarnac for two hours.
  • The airline must service toilets, keep air conditioning on, and keep trash cans clean.

In addition, the U.S. government mandates these “rights” for air travelers:

  1. Compensation when you’re bumped due to overbooking –and for no other reason.
  2. An airline must accept lost/damaged baggage liability up to $3,000 in depreciated value per passenger for a domestic flight (limits on international flights are either about $1,700 or $635, depending on which rule applies).

Beyond those, all you can claim is what’s in each airline’s “contract of carriage.” Those contracts are–naturally–heavily biased toward airlines, not customers.

Given that the law–and the Congressmen who create it–is still largely owned by the airlines, you, as a customer, are forced to make do with the weapons at hand.

These essentially boil down to two:

  1. Threatening the airlines with bad publicity; and
  2. Threatening the airlines with a private or class-action lawsuit.

In both cases, it’s best to first contact the highest-ranking officials in the airline company.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. They have the most to lose, and
  2. They have the power to redress your complaint.

You can try to reach the CEO or one of his assistants during the time of the incident.  But, most likely, this will happen afterwards.

If a mini-Hitler of an airline steward decides to eject you because s/he doesn’t like your clothes or request for help, there’s nothing you can do about it.

If you physically resist, you will almost certainly be arrested and charged with some version of domestic terrorism.  You’ll be shipped off to jail and forced to defend yourself against the bogus charge.

Even if the authorities decide to not prosecute, you’ll have to spend at least several hundred dollars on legal representation.

And, of course, the airlines won’t care.  They won’t be spending a dime on your prosecution–that will be paid for by the local U.S. Attorney’s (federal prosecutor’s) office.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, wisely advised in The Prince:

A prince…must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves.  One must therefore be a fox to avoid traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”

This is definitely the time to take on the trappings of a fox.  However painful it is to swallow the insult at the time it’s given, don’t give the airlines an excuse to have you arrested.

Take your revenge afterward.  That’s what musician Dave Carroll did.

Carroll alleged that, in 2008, he and fellow passengers saw United Airlines’ baggage-handling crew throwing guitars on the tarmac in Chicago O’Hare.  He arrived at Omaha, Nebraska, his destination to discover that the neck of his $3,500 Taylor guitar had been broken.

Carroll complained to three United employees, but they proved indifferent.  He filed a claim with the airline–but was told he was ineligible for compensation.

The reason?  He had not filed the claim within the company’s stipulated “standard 24-hour timeframe.”

Carroll turned to his musical roots for a remedy.  He wrote a song, “United Breaks Guitars,” and turned it into a music video which he posted on YouTube and iTunes in July, 2009.

Click here: United Breaks Guitars – YouTube

The song went viral, and became a public relations nightmare for the airline.

The Sunday Times reported that, four days after the video’s posting, United Airlines’ stock price fell 10% costing stockholders about $180 million in value.

Most customers, admittedly, aren’t musicians.  For them–short of suing–the weapons of choice will be:

  • The phone
  • Letters
  • The Internet
  • Consumer protection organizations that can be enlisted

Let’s start with the first: The phone.

Most customers assume the place to take their anger is the airline Customer Service desk.  And the airlines encourage people to do just that.

Don’t do it.

Customer Service is staffed by people who may ooze compassion but who aren’t authorized to do anything on your behalf. And of course they’ll be well-versed in the standard airline excuses for why your request is denied.

(Think of Dave Carroll and the excuse United’s reps offered him: You didn’t file your claim within 24 hours.)

Even if they truly want to help you, they’ll find themselves outranked at every level.

So take your complaint to someone who has the authority to resolve it.  This means, preferably, the CEO of the airline, or at least one of his executive colleagues.

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