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Archive for December, 2013|Monthly archive page

A NEW LOOK AT AN OLD CLASSIC

In Business, Entertainment, Politics, Social commentary on December 30, 2013 at 12:42 am

Every Christmas, TV audiences find comfort and triumph in the rerunning of a black-and-white 1946 movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.

It’s the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), a decent husband and father who hovers on the brink of suicide–until his guardian angel, Clarence, suddenly intervenes.

Its A Wonderful Life Movie Poster.jpg

Clarence reveals to George what his home town, Bedford Falls, New York, would be like if he had never been born.  George finds himself shocked to learn:

  • With no counterweight to the schemes of rapacious slumlord Henry F. Potter, Bedford Falls becomes Potterville, filled with pawn shops and sleazy nightclubs.
  • With no George Bailey to save his younger brother, Harry, from drowning in a frozen pond, Harry drowns.
  • With no Harry to live to become a Naval fighter pilot in World War II, he’s not on hand to shoot down two Japanese planes targeting an American troopship.
  • As a result, the troopship and its crew are destroyed.

George is forced to face the significant role he has played in the lives of so many others.

Armed with this knowledge, he once again embraces life, running through the snow-covered streets of Bedford Falls and shouting “Merry Christmas!” to everyone he meets.

Audiences have hailed George Bailey as an Everyman hero–and the film as a life-affirming testatment to the unique importance of each individual.

But there is another aspect of the movie that has not been so closely studied: The legacy of its villain, Henry F. Potter, who, as  played by Lionel Barrymore, bears a striking resemblance to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter.jpg

Henry F. Potter

It is Potter–the richest man in Bedford Falls–whose insatiable greed threatens to destroy it.  And it is Potter whose criminality drives George Bailey to the brink of suicide.

The antagonism between Bailey and Potter starts early in the movie.  George dreams of leaving Bedford Falls and building skyscrapers.  Meanwhile, he works at the Bailey Building and Loan Association, which plays a vital role in the life of the community.

Potter, a member of the Building and Loan Association board, tries to persuade the board of directors to dissolve the firm. He objects to their providing home loans for the working poor.

George persuades them to reject Potter’s proposal, but they agree only on condition that George run the Building and Loan.  Reluctantly, George agrees.

Later, Potter tries to lure George away from the Building and Loan, offering him a $20,000 salary and the chance to visit Europe.  George is briefly tempted.

But then he realizes that Potter intends to close down the Building and Loan and deny financial help to those who most need it.  Angrily, he turns down Potter’s offer:

“You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn’t, Mr. Potter!

“In the in the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider.”

It is a setback for Potter, but he’s willing to bide his time for revenge.

On Christmas Eve morning, the town prepares a hero’s welcome for George’s brother, Harry.  George’s scatter-brained Uncle Billy visits Potter’s bank to deposit $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s cash funds.

He taunts Potter by reading the newspaper headlines announcing the coming tribute.  Potter  snatches the paper, and Billy unthinkingly allows the money to be snatched with it.

When Billy leaves, Potter opens the paper and sees the money.  He keeps it, knowing that misplacement of bank money will bankrupt the Building and Loan and bring criminal charges against George.

But at the last minute, word of George’s plight reaches his wide range of grateful friends.  A flood of townspeople arrive with more than enough donations to save George and the Building and Loan.

The movie ends on a triumphant note, with George basking in the glow of love from his family and friends.

But no critic seems to have noticed that Henry Potter’s theft has gone unnoticed.  (Uncle Billy can’t recall how he lost the money.)  Potter is richer by $8,000.  And ready to go on taking advantage of others.

Perhaps it’s time to see Potter’s actions in a new light–that of America’s richest 1%, ever ready to prey upon the weaknesses of others.

Justice never catches up with Potter in the movie.  But the joke-writers at Saturday Night Live have conjured up a satisfactory punishment for his avarice.

In this version, Uncle Billy suddenly remembers that he left the money with Potter.  Enraged, George Bailey (Dana Carvey) leads his crowd of avenging friends to Potter’s office.

Potter realizes the jig is up and offers to return the money.  But George wants more than that–and he and his friends proceed to stomp and beat Potter to death.

The skit ends with with George and his friends singing “Auld Ang Syne”–as they do in the movie–as they finish off Potter with clubs.

Click here: SNL and Dana Carvey perform the “Alternate Ending of Its a Wonderful Life!

America is rapidly a divided nation–one where the richest 1% lord it over an increasingly impoverished 99%.

The time may be coming when many Americans are ready to embrace the SNL approach to economic justice.

THE PIRATES OF LIMBAUGH

In Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm

On April 8, 2009, four Somali pirates boarded the Maersk Alabama when it was located 240 miles southeast of the Somalian port city of  Eyl.

The ship, en route to Mombasa, Kenya, was carrying 17,000 tons of cargo, including 5,000 tons of relief supplies for Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda.

As the pirates boarded the ship, the crew members locked themselves in the engine room.  To buy time for his crewmen, the captain, Richard Phillips, surrendered to the pirates.

Captain Richard Phillips

The crew later overpowered one of the pirates, and sought to exchange their captive for Phillips.  The crew released the  pirate, but the other three pirates refused to release Phillips.

The pirates left with Philips in a lifeboat which carried ten days of food rations, water and basic survival supplies.

On April 8, the destroyer USSS Bainbridge and the frigate USSS Halyburton were dispatched to the Gulf of Aden to deal with the hostage situation, and reached Maersk Alabama early on April 9.

On April 9, a standoff began between the Bainbridge and the pirates in the Maersk Alabama’s lifeboat, where they continued to hold Phillips hostage

On April 12, marksmen from SEAL Team 6 simultaneously opened fire with telescopic-sighted assault rifles and killed the three pirates on the lifeboat.

The SEALS believed Phillips faced an immediate threat of execution, having received a report that one of the pirates was pointing an AK-47 at his back.

The SEALS, known for their legendary marksmanship, took out all three pirates with shots to the head.

Phillips was rescued in good condition.

The vast majority of Americans rejoiced.  The Maersk Alabama had been the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years.  And the encounter had ended with the ship and crew safe and its captain rescued without injury.

But not everyone was happy about the outcome.  Naturally, the pirates infesting the Somali coastline were infuriated at this setback.

But, surprisingly, there were some Americans who felt more sympathetically toward the Somali pirates than the man who had ordered Phillips’ rescue: President Barack Obama.

One of these was Rush Limbaugh, the American Right’s chief spokesman.

Rush Limbaugh

The Rush Limbaugh Show airs throughout the U.S. on over 400 stations and is the highest-rated talk-radio program in the United States. When Limbaugh speaks, his “dittohead” audience listens—and acts as he decrees.

On April 14, 2009, Limbaugh gave his take on the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips:

“The Somali pirates, the merchant marine organizers who took a US merchant captain hostage for five days were inexperienced youths, the defense secretary, Roberts Gates, said yesterday, adding that the hijackers were between 17 and 19 years old.

“Now, just imagine the hue and cry had a Republican president ordered the shooting of black teenagers on the high seas….

“They were kids. The story is out, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but apparently the hijackers, these kids, the merchant marine organizers, Muslim kids, were upset.

“They wanted to just give the captain back and head home because they were running out of food.  They were running out of fuel, they were surrounded by all these US Navy ships, big ships, and they just wanted out of there. That’s the story.

“But then when one of them put a gun to the back of the captain, Mr. Phillips, then bam, bam, bam. There you have it, and three teenagers shot on the high seas at the order of President Obama.”

And there you have it–an American Fascist making common cause with the heirs of Blackbeard and Henry Morgan.

Click here: President Obama Ordered the Killing of Three Black Muslim Kids – The Rush Limbaugh Show

In Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare lets Marcus Brutus give his reason for murdering Caesar, his onetime friend: “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.”

Limbaugh and his Rightist stooges could have said they opposed the rescue mission for a similar reasono: “Not that we loved the Somali pirates, but that we hate Obama more.”

Consider the comment Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) made on an Iowa radio program on October 3, 2011.

One caller, “Donna,” told Bachmann that the president was a “walking nightmare” who was “blowing up our country.”

“I would vote for Charles Manson before this guy,” she said. “But I’m pulling for you big time, all the way, go Michele!”

“Thank you for saying that,” Bachmann replied.

Thus, Bachmann–who supposedly represented the democratic system–chose as her hero a convicted psychopathic murderer over a legally-elected President.

The rescue of Richard Phillips has been dramatized in the 2013 movie, “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks in the title role.

Audiences cheered at the climatic moment when the three pirates met their deserved fate.

But what they didn’t see depicted was Limbaugh’s Greek chorus for the Right–and the sheer hatred he and they have for anyone who doesn’t share their Fascistic views.

The ordeal of Captain Phillips and the crew of the Maersk Alabama is over.  But the heirs of Blackbeard  still roam the seas near Somalia.

And the heirs of Francisco Franco, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini still conspire to remake America in their own Rightist image.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH ISN’T FREE

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, Social commentary on December 19, 2013 at 1:10 am

There are several reasons to not watch “Duck Dynasty”:

  • You might be opposed to duck hunting–and the fact that the family of Phil Robertson has grown wealthy by selling duck-calling products.
  • Or you may be disgusted at the sight of long hair and beards, which the males in the Robertson family wear with abandon.
  • Or you might be turned off by the sight of so many shotguns and rifles, which the family loves to display.

These are perfectly legitimate reasons to switch channels when this A&E “reality series” comes on.

But there’s one reason that shouldn’t apply: Blacklisting Phil Robertson, the family patriarch, because he expressed his opinion during a Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ) interview.

GQ itself best summed up the image and values of the Robertsons: “a family of squirrel-eating, Bible-thumping, catchphrase-spouting duck hunters.”

Duck Dynasty Promo.jpg

So when A&E signed them up in 2012, the network should have known what it was promoting–and that the words “politically correct” didn’t apply.

Thus, the network shouldn’t have been surprised when Robertson, asked during an interview for his views on homosexuality, frankly stated them.

At 67, he is an unabashed Christian fundamentalist and a proud member (along with the rest of his family) of the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ.

Phil Robertson

“It seems like to me, a vagina–as a man–would be more desirable than a man’s anus,” said Robertson, a Louisiana native.  “That’s just me.  I’m just thinking.  There’s more there.  She’s got more to offer.

“I mean, come on, dudes!  You know what I’m saying?  But hey, sin: It’s not logical my nam.  It’s just not logical.

“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine.  Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.

“Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers–they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

The First Amendment to the Constitution declares, in part:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech….”

Thus, the most important legislative body in the nation is strictly forbidden from interferring with the rights of Americans to express their opinions.

Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers didn’t have the foresight to imagine wealthy conglomerates such as A&E usurping powers that were denied to Congress.

Thus, when the issue of GQ hit the newsstand–and the Internet–A&E quickly announced that it was indefinitely suspending Phil Robertson from appearing on the “Duck Dynasty” series.

“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty.

“His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”

The network stated that the rest of the family (who almost certainly share his views, but haven’t done so publicly) would remain on the program.

Of course, the homosexual/lesbian/transgender community were outraged by Robertson’s views–which were precisely those of an Old Testatment-quoting patriarch.

And they have every right to be upset.  They have long been and continue to be targets of abuse–much of it violent.  And no doubt they see Robertson’s views as justifying further such abuse aimed at them.

And they weren’t shy about expressing their views about Robertson–and his beliefs.  According to a statement released by GLAAD (formerly Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation):

“Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.

“He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans–and Americans–who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.

“Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.”

From a First Amendment perspective, so far, so good–two diametrically opposing opinions on a vital social issue.  May the best argument win.

But according to A&E, there can be only one prevailing view on homosexuality–whatever view the network’s topmost officials decide is correct at any given moment.

This is the liberal version of the 1950s “Red Scare” reign of Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.  Anyone accused of being a “Communist,” a “Comsymp” or “fellow traveler” could suddenly find himself out of work.

This was especially so in the area of television–where simply being labeled “controversial” could earn you a pink slip.

Love him or loathe him, Robertson has never hidden his views from anyone.

A&E surely knew what it was getting when it signed him and his Louisiana family up for this “reality series” which brings in huge profits from its 14 million viewers.

Only when those profits are threatened by the public statement of views that A&E officials surely knew long ago has the network tried to distance itself from its ratings-winner.

PERPETUAL “WAR ON CHRISTMAS”

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, Social commentary on December 17, 2013 at 3:57 pm

It’s that time of year again–a time of

  • Christmas trees
  • Nativity scenes
  • singing carols
  • exchanging gifts with family and friends.

And, if you’re an employee of Fox News, creating fresh ways to stir up controversey over a non-existant “war on Christmas.”

Stirring up false controversies is a daily assignment for the alleged reporters of this company owned by Right-wing patriarch Rupert Murdoch.

Consider the attack on the American diplomatic mission at Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.

The attack caught the United States by surprise.  Clearly, with the 11th anniversay of the 9/11 attacks approaching, America should have beefed up security at its diplomatic missions throughout the Middle East.

But Fox News wasn’t content to simply make that claim.  Instead, it accused President Barack Obama of deliberately sacrificing the four Americans killed in Benghazi that night–including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

So long as Fox “reporters” spoke only with other Right-wing critics of the Obama administration, the slander went unopposed.

But then Fox News interviewed Tom Ricks, a warfare expert who had covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 to 2008, and the author of The Generals. 

The exchange between Ricks and Jon Scott, co-host of Fox News Happening Now went as follows:

SCOTT: Pressure mounting on the Obama administration over its response to the deadly attack on our consulate in Benghazi….

Two senators even expressing concerns about a possible White House cover-up. Let’s talk about it with Tom Ricks. He is author of The Generals. He has spent decades covering our military. He joins us now….What do you make of it?

RICKS: I think that Benghazi generally was hyped, by this network especially, and that now that the campaign is over,  I think he’s backing off a little bit….

SCOTT: When you have four people dead, including the first dead U.N. ambassador–U.S. ambassador in more than 30 years, how do you call that hype?

RICKS: How many security contractors died in Iraq, do you know?

SCOTT: I don’t.

RICKS: No. Nobody does, because nobody cared. We know that several hundred died, but there was never an official count done of security contractors dead in Iraq.  So when I see this focus on what was essentially a small firefight, I think, number one, I’ve covered a lot of firefights.

It’s impossible to figure out what happens in them sometimes. And second, I think that the emphasis on Benghazi has been extremely political, partly because Fox was operating as a wing of Republican Party.

SCOTT: All right. Tom Ricks, thanks very much for joining us today.

* * * * *

But Christmas is special, so, each year, the executives at Fox find a new way to stir up emotions by resurrecting the “war on Christmas” slander.

This year, it fell to Fox hostess Megyn Kelly to carry the ball.  And she did so on December 11 on “The Kelly File,” her popular Fox News program.

Referring to an article by Slate writer Aisha Harris on “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore,” she said:

“When I saw this headline, I kinda laughed and I said, ‘Oh, this is ridiculous. Yet another person claiming it’s racist to have a white Santa.’

“And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. But this person is maybe just arguing that we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is, and just so you know, we’re just debating this because someone wrote about it, kids.”

Of course, Santa Claus is a completely fictional character.  Arguing about his skin color is as pointless as arguing about his weight.

But Kelly wasn’t content to talk only about Santa.  So she turned next to Jesus, a historical figure about whom we have not a single reference to his appearance, let alone a picture.

“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too,” Kelly said. “He was a historical figure; that’s a verifiable fact–as is Santa, I want you kids watching to know that–but my point is: How do you revise it, in the middle of the legacy of the story, and change Santa from white to black?”

Santa Claus a verifiable historical figure?  Not even Charlie Brown, in the annually telecast “Peanuts” special, would make that claim.

In George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, Oceania is always at war with Eurasia or Eastasia.  Its citizens are kept in a constant state of frenzy as they’re directed to search for endless “enemies of the state.”

This, in turn, allows the unseen rulers of Oceania to run their dictatorship without interference.

It’s a blueprint for power not lost on the men who run Fox News.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART EIGHT (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help on December 16, 2013 at 12:18 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, Social commentary on December 13, 2013 at 12:31 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, Law, Self-Help on December 12, 2013 at 12:09 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 youAccuse 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, Law, Self-Help on December 11, 2013 at 12:40 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.

KGO AIRWAYS: PART FOUR (OF EIGHT)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help on December 10, 2013 at 12:44 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.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART THREE (OF EIGHT)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help on December 9, 2013 at 12:30 am

When Leisha Hailey and her girlfriend kissed aboard a Southwest Airlines flight to Los Angeles, they quickly found themselves in trouble.

Leisha Hailey

A flight attendant told them that Southwest was “a family airline.” When they argued they were targets of homophobia, the attendant ejected them from the plane.

Hailey–the star of Showtime’s The L-Word (and a lesbian)–posted her experience on Twitter.  Calling for a boycot of Southwest, she tweeted:

“I want to know what Southwest Airlines considers as ‘family.’ I know plenty of wonderful same-sex families I would like to introduce them to. Boycott @SouthwestAir if you are gay. They don’t like us.”

Naturally, Southwest had its own explanation for what had happened:

“…We received several passenger complaints characterizing the behavior as excessive. Our crew, responsible for the comfort of all Customers on board, approached the passengers based solely on behavior and not gender. The conversation escalated to a level that was better resolved on the ground, as opposed to in flight.”

In short, the situation was “better resolved on the ground” by forcing two unarmed, non-threatening women to leave the plane rather than having the airline honor their high-priced tickets.

Now, a quick question: When does a camera become a dangerous weapon?

When you snap a picture of an especially rude airline employee.

  • A  Miami photographer was escorted off a US Airways plane and deemed a “security risk” after she did this at Philadelphia International Airport in July, 2011.

Sandy DeWitt believed the employee, Tonialla G., was being rude to several passengers in the boarding area of the flight to Miami.

So DeWitt, a professional photographer, used her iPhone to snap a picture of G.’s nametag.  She intended to file a complaint with US Airways and wanted the picture as evidence.

As DeWitt settled into her seat, preparing for take-off, G. entered the plane and confronted her.

She ordered DeWitt to delete the photo.

DeWitt had already turned off her iPhone, as required before take-off.  She turned the phone back on to prove that the photo hadn’t come out.  Even so, she deleted the too-dark picture.

G. then walked into the cockpit to inform the pilot that DeWitt was a “security risk.”

Suddenly, DeWitt found herself being escorted off the plane by two flight attendants.  Her husband followed.

Speaking with Michael Lofton, a US Airways manager at Philadelphia International Airport, she learned that she would not be allowed back on the plane.

The reason:  She was a “security risk.”

But that didn’t keep Lofton from directing her to American Airlines for a flight back to Miami.

But that flight had already departed and it was already after 7 p.m.  And there were no other flights back to Miami until the following morning.

“We were expecting to spend the night at the airport,” she said.

They eventually boarded a Southwest Airlines flight to Fort Lauderdale at 11 p.m.

Apparently, Southwest didn’t consider her to be a “security risk.”

Naturally, US Airways had a cover-story to explain what had happened.

Todd Lehmacher, a spokesman for US Airways, told msnbc.com that DeWitt was removed for being “disruptive.”

“Once onboard, she was using foul and explicit language,” Lehmacher said. “She was removed at the request of the captain.”

Apparently, “disruptive” means whatever an airline official claims it to mean.

Business Insider ranked US Airways sixth in a list of the 19 Most Hated Companies in America.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is an economic indicator that measures the satisfaction of consumers across the United States. It is produced by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, a private company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The ACSI interviews about 80,000 Americans annually and asks about their satisfaction with the goods and services they have consumed. And Americans’ most-hated companies include large banks, airlines, power and telecom companies.

David VanAmburg, managing director at ACSI, offered a critical insight into why these companies are so detested.

“These are not terribly competitive industries, as the switching barriers for most of them are quite high,” he told Business Insider in June, 2011.

“In other industries, like the food or clothing sector, the competition is huge. They bend over backwards to make customers happy, because they have to.”

That certainly applies to airlines–whose numbers are limited and continue to shrink due to mergers and the rising cost of fuel.

For the airline industry generally, the former slogan of United Airlines–”Fly the Friendly Skies”–has unofficially been replaced with: “We don’t care. We don’t have to.”

So–when you’re facing a would-be KGB agent masquerading as an airline employee, what do you do?

First, you recognize that the concept of “consumer rights” has not yet reached the airline industry.

Then you do what you can to see that it does.

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