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Posts Tagged ‘ABC NEWS’

SELLING OUT AMERICA TO SPITE OBAMA: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on December 19, 2014 at 12:55 am

President Barack Obama has repeatedly failed to learn the lessons of history and the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli.  As a result, he has once again allowed Republicans to place the nation in mortal peril.

On December 13, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund almost the entire government through the September 30 end of the fiscal year.

But one Federal agency was pointedly exempted from full funding: The Department of Homeland  Security (DHS).

President Obama had requested $38.2 billion to fund DHS through fiscal year 2015. Republicans have ensured that its money will run out on February 27.

In 2015, Republicans will hold both the House and Senate.  And that’s when they will hold the security of the United States as a hostage–to force Obama to rescind the changes he has made in American immigration policy.

It will be Homeland Security that’s charged with implementing that policy. And Republicans intend to strip it of funding to implement that policy.

And if that means allowing DHS to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” (to use a phrase made infamous by the Nixon administration) while Republicans play out their latest power-game, so be it.

This is no small matter.

With more than 240,000 employees, DHS is the third largest Cabinet department, after the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The Defense Department is charged with military actions abroad.  DHS is responsible for protecting the United States inside and outside its borders.

Its goal is to prepare for, prevent and–if prevention fails–respond to man-made accidents, natural disasters and terrorism.

Among the agencies now operating under its mandate:

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA)
  • U.S. Secret Service
  • Science and Technology Directorate
  • Domestic Nuclear Detection Office
  • Office of Intelligence and Analysis
  • Office of Operations Coordination and Planning

Some of these agencies–like FEMA, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service–are well-known.  Others–such as the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office–are not.

Click here: Department Components | Homeland Security

Yet each has a vital role to play in protecting the nation.  A nation whose security Republicans are willing to threaten to get their way on a matter of domestic policy.

Ironically, it was a Republican President–George W. Bush–who launched DHS after the catastrophic 9/11 attacks.

It’s become fashionable in both Democratic and Republican parties to bash “Washington,” as though it’s a foreign entity waging war on a helpless American populace.

But consider the implications if there is no

  • Secret Service to protect the President;
  • TSA to ensure the safety of airline passengers;
  • FEMA to respond to national emergencies (such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy);
  • Domestic Nuclear Detection Office to prevent nuclear terrorism;
  • Coast Guard to save those in ocean peril and defend our maritime borders.

President Bush learned–the hard way–what it means to have an ineffective FEMA.  The disastrous response to the 2005 flooding of New Orleans severely crippled Bush’s popularity for the rest of his term.

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

By contrast, FEMA’s effective response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 went a long way to ensuring the re-election of President Obama.

But DHS is best-known for its mission to prevent terrorist attacks on America.  And America may well be in the crosshairs of North Korean terrorism at this very moment.

On December 17, Sony Pictures cancelled the Christmas Day premier of “The Interview” after the nation’s five largest movie chains refused to show the movie, following a terror threat posted online.

The movie chains were Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, Carmike Cinemas and Cineplex Entertainment.

“The Interview” is a comedy satirizing the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un by two American journalists.

Poster for “The Interview”

Since November 14, Sony Pictures has been under relentless attack by cyberterrorists, who have been tentatively linked to North Korea.

Calling themselves “Guardians of Peace,” or GOP, they shut down the company’s computer system and revealed employees’ personal information such as salaries, addresses, and Social Security Numbers.

Warning issued by “Guardians of Peace” (GOP)

Five unreleased Sony films–including Brad Pitt’s World War II epic “Fury”–hit the web on copyright-infringing hubs.

Then, on December 16, GOP released its most vivid threat yet:

“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places ‘The Interview’ be shown, including the premier, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.

“…The world will be full of fear.  Remember the 11th of September 2001.

“We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.  (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)”

Interestingly, “Guardians of Peace” has appropriated the same abbreviation–GOP–used by the Republicans (for “Grand Old Party”).

If the American GOP has its way and manages to indefinitely suspend the funding for DHS, North Korea’s own GOP may well take full advantage of the situation.

And then the United States will discover that “GOP” spells “terrorist” in both English and Korean.

SELLING OUT AMERICA TO SPITE OBAMA: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Politics, Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary, Law on December 18, 2014 at 12:10 am

A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Barack Obama is easily one of the most academically gifted Presidents in United States history.

Yet he has repeatedly failed to learn from history that appeasing tyrants is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

History’s most infamous example of appeasement occurred in September, 1938, at Munich, Germany.

The prime ministers of England and France–Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, respectively–met with German dictator Adolf Hitler.

Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler

Hitler had demanded that Czechoslovakia surrender the “Sudetenland”–the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia, inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans.

England and France had pledged to defend Czechoslovakia against German attack.  But Chamberlain and Daladier desperately wanted to avoid war with Hitler.

On September 29, Hitler, Daladier and Chamberlain met and signed the Munich Agreement, which accepted the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland.

The Czechoslovak government had not been a party to the talks. Nevertheless, it promised to abide by the agreement.

Facing the threat of a German invasion, it had no choice, having been deserted by its pledged allies.

Chamberlain returned to England a hero.  Holding aloft a copy of the worthless agreement he had signed with Hitler, he told cheering crowds in London: “I believe it is peace for our time.”

Neville Chamberlain

Winston Churchill knew better, predicting: “Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.”

Less than one year later, Churchill was proved right.

Hitler next turned his attention–and demands–to Poland.

When his generals balked, warning that an invasion would trigger a war with France and Britain, Hitler quickly brushed aside their fears: “Our enemies are little worms. I saw them at Munich.”

On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland.  And this time, France and Britain–reluctantly–honored their pledged word to declare war on Germany.

President Obama has repeatedly failed to learn that appeasing tyrants invites their contempt and emboldens their aggression.

In addition, he has failed to grasp and apply this fundamental lesson taught by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science.

In his classic work on politics, The Prince, Machiavelli warns:

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved. 

The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved….

Men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared.  For love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose.  But fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails

Obama has failed to heed this advice.  And, predictably, his sworn enemies–which is what Republicans consider themselves to be–have felt free to demonize and obstruct him at every turn.

In 2011, Republicans threatened to destroy the Nation’s credit rating unless their budgetary demands were met.  Obama surrendered to their demands.

Yet he could have ended that threat via the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act

Passed by Congress in 1970, as Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1961-1968, its goal was to destroy the Mafia.

Originally, RICO was aimed at the Mafia and other organized crime syndicates.  But inUnited States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576 (1981), the Supreme Court held that RICO applied as well to legitimate enterprises being operated in a criminal manner.

After Turkette, RICO could also be used against corporations, political protest groups, labor unions and loosely knit-groups of people.

RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys.  Among those crimes: Extortion.

Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.”

The RICO Act defines “a pattern of racketeering activity” as “at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years…after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.”

And if President Obama had believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with Republicans’ extortion attempts, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.

In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism.  Among the behavior that is defined as criminal:

“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place.   President Obama needed only to direct the Justice Department to apply them.

Criminally investigating and indicting members of Congress would not violate the separation-of-powers principle.  Congressmen have in the past been investigated, indicted and convicted for various criminal offenses.

Such indictments and prosecutions–and especially convictions–would have served notice on current and future members of Congress: The lives and fortunes of American citizens may not be held hostage to gain leverage in a political settlement.

In short, Obama could have replaced the rule of fear with the rule of law.

Instead, he acted like a Chamberlain, when America needed a Churchill.

SELLING OUT AMERICA TO SPITE OBAMA: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on December 17, 2014 at 12:06 am

Congressional Republicans are once again threatening American security in the name of their hatred for President Barack Obama.

Their target: The Department of Homeland Security–created after 9/11 by the George W. Bush administration.

The first time Republicans threatened the nation with destruction was in April, 2011.

During a late-night White House meeting with President Barack Obama and key Congressional leaders, Republican House Speaker John Boehner made this threat:

His conference would not approve funding for the government if any money were allowed to flow to Planned Parenthood through Title X legislation.

John Boehner

Facing an April 8 deadline, negotiators worked day and night to strike a compromise–and finally reached one.

Three months later–on July 9–Republican extortionists again threatened the Nation with financial ruin and international disgrace unless their demands were met.

Sign of The Black Hand extortion group 

During the summer of 2011, Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agreed to massively cut social programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.

If Congress failed to raise the borrowing limit of the federal government by August 2, the date when the U.S. reached the limit of its borrowing abilities, it would have begun defaulting on its loans.

As Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, explained the looming economic catastrophe:

“If you don’t send out Social Security checks, I would hate to think about the credit meeting at S&P and Moody’s the next morning.

“If you’re not paying millions and millions and millions of people that range in age from 65 on up, money you promised them, you’re not a AAA,” said Buffett.

Warren Buffet

A triple-A credit rating is the highest possible rating that can be received.

And while Republicans demanded that the disadvantaged tighten their belts, they rejected any raising of taxes on their foremost constituency–the wealthiest 1%.

To raise taxes on the wealthy, they insisted, would be a “jobs-killer.” It would “discourage” corporate CEOs from creating tens of thousands of jobs they “want” to create.

President Obama offered to make historic cuts in the Federal Government and the social safety net–on which millions of Americans depend for their most basic needs.

But House Speaker John Boehner rejected that offer.  He could not agree to the tax increases that Democrats wanted to impose on the wealthiest 1% as part of the bargain.

As the calendar moved ever closer to the fateful date of August 2, Republican leaders continued to insist: Any deal that includes taxes “can’t pass the House.”

One senior Republican said talks would go right up to–and maybe beyond–the brink of default.

“I think we’ll be here in August,” said Republican Representative Pete Sessions, of Texas. “We are not going to leave town until a proper deal gets done.”

President Obama had previously insisted on extending the debt ceiling through 2012. But in mid-July, he simply asked congressional leaders to review three options with their members:

  1. The “Grand Bargain” choice—favored by Obama–would cut deficits by about $4 trillion, including spending cuts and new tax revenues.
  2. A medium-range plan would aim to reduce the deficit by about $2 trillion.
  3. The smallest option would cut between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, without increased tax revenue or any Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

And the Republican response?

Said Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee:“Quite frankly, [Republican] members of Congress are getting tired of what the president won’t do and what the president wants.”

Noted political analyst Chris Matthews summed up the sheer criminality of what happened within the House of Representatives.

Chris Matthews

Speaking on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” on July 28–five days before Congress reached its August 2 deadline to raise the debt-ceiling–Matthews noted:

“The first people to bow to the demands of those threatening to blow up the economy were the Republicans in the House, the leaders. The leaders did what the followers told them to do: meet the demands, hold up the country to get their way.

“Those followers didn’t win the Senate, or the Presidency, just the House.

“But by using the House they were able to hold up the entire United States government. They threatened to blow things up economically and it worked.

“They said they were willing to do that–just to get their way–not by persuasion, not by politics, not by democratic government, but by threatening the destruction of the country’s finances.

“Right. So what’s next? The power grid? Will they next time threaten to close down the country’s electricity and communications systems?”

With the United States teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, President Obama faced three options:

  1. Counter Republican extortion attempts via RICO–the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, passed in 1970 to combat the Mafia.
  2. Counter such terrorism through the USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11.
  3. Cave in to Republican demands.

Unfortunately for Obama and the Nation, he chose Number Three.

By doing so, he ensured the upcoming round of Republican extortion atttempts–which, once again, threaten the security of the nation that Republicans claim to love.

“YOUR CALL IS VERY IMPORTANT TO US”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help, Social commentary on December 16, 2014 at 12:00 am

So you’ve spent the last half-hour or more on the phone, listening to one recorded message after another (and probably a symphony of bad music).

And you’re no closer to solving the problem that caused you to phone the company/agency in the first place.

What to do?

  • Go on the Net and look up the company’s/agency’s website.  Look for links to their Board of Directors.  Often enough you’ll get not only their names but their bios, phone numbers and even email addresses.
  • Start looking at the bottom of the website page.  Many companies/agencies put this information there–and usually in small print.
  • Look for the names of officials who can help you.  That means the ones at the top of the  company–or at least high enough so you can be sure that whoever responds to your call, letter and/or email has the necessary clout to address your problem.
  • If you call, don’t ask to speak directly with Mr. Big–that’s not going to happen.  Ask to speak with Mr. Big’s secretary, who is far more accessible.
  • Keep your tone civil, and try to make your call as brief as possible.  Don’t go into a lot of background about all the problems you’ve been having getting through to someone.
  • Give the gist and ask for a referral to someone who can help resolve your problem.
  • If the secretary needs more time to study the problem before referring you to someone else, be patient.  Answer any questions asked–such as your name, address, phone number and/or email.
  • State–specifically–what you want the company to do to resolve your problem.  If you want a refund or repairs for your product, say so.
  • Too many consumers don’t specify what they want the company to do–they’re so caught up in their rage and frustration that this completely escapes them. 
  • Be reasonable.  If you want a refund, then don’t ask for more money than you paid for the product.  If you want to return a product for an exchange, don’t expect the company to give you a new one with even more bells and whistles–unless you’re willing to pay the difference in price.
  • If you want an agency to investigate your complaint, don’t expect them to drop everything else and do so instantly.  Give them time to assess your information and that supplied by others.
  • It’s usually possible to get one agency to sit on another–if you can make a convincing case that it’s in that secondary agency’s best interests to do so.
  • For example: If you’ve been roughed up by local police for no good reason, you can file a complaint with that department–-and the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office (federal prosecutor) to investigate.
  • That doesn’t guarantee they will resolve your problem.  But if you can show that the cops have violated several Federal civil rights laws, the odds are that someone will take a serious look at your complaint.
  • If a company/agency official has acted so outrageously that the company/agency might now be held liable for his actions, don’t be afraid to say so.
  • But don’t threaten to sue.  Just point out that the employee has acted in such a way as to jeopardize the company’s/agency’s profits and/or reputation for integrity/efficiency.  Make it clear that the organization is not well-served by such behavior.
  • Don’t try to win sympathy for yourself.  An agency/company doesn’t care about you.  It cares only about its profits and/or reputation.  So if you got a raw deal, but don’t have the means to threaten either, its top executives won’t lift a finger to help you.
  • If you can make it clear that the profits and/or reputation of the agency/business have been compromised by the actions of its employee(s), your letter/email will instantly catch the attention of Mr. Big.  Or one of Mr. Big’s assistants–who will likely take quick action to head off a lawsuit and/or bad publicity by trying to satisfy your request.
  • Give the CEO’s secretary at least one to two days to get back to you.  Remember: Resolving your problem isn’t the only task she needs to complete.
  • If you’re writing the CEO, make sure you use his full name and title–and that you spell both correctly. People don’t get to be CEOs without a huge sense of ego. Nothing will turn him off faster than your failing to get his name and title exactly right.
  • As in the case with his secretary, be brief–no more than a page and a half.  Outline the problem you’re having and at least some (though not necessarily all) of the steps you’re taken to get it resolved.
  • Then state what you want the company to do.  Again, be fair and reasonable.
  • If your main problem is simply getting through the phone system of the business, point out that most customers won’t put up with such rudeness and inefficiency. They will take their business elsewhere.

“YOUR CALL IS VERY IMPORTANT TO US”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help, Social commentary on December 14, 2014 at 9:08 pm

How many times have you called a government agency or company and instantly found yourself put on hold?

To add insult to injury, you usually wind up serenaded by recorded music that would be totally forgettable if it weren’t so unforgivably irritating.

And every 30 seconds or so a recorded voice comes on to assure you: “Your call is very important to us.”

Have you ever wondered:If my call is so important to you, why aren’t you answering it? 

The truth is that most companies and government agencies don’t want their employees speaking with the customers who make their existence a reality.

Having your questions answered by another human being requires the company/agency to assign–and pay–people to do just that.

Most hiring managers don’t want to hire any more people than they absolutely have to.  Assigning people to answer customers’ calls means that many of those calls will take time to answer, because some problems can’t be solved in a matter of seconds.

This is especially true when the problem involves technology.

(Technical support employees of computer/software companies are notorious for advising customers to “just put the Restore Disk back into your computer and restore it back to default.”

This wipes out your problem–and everything you’ve saved on your computer.  It also gets you off the phone quickly with Tech Support.)

To a bean-counting executive, time is money.  And that’s money that won’t be going into the pockets of some already overpaid CEO.

Even government agencies like police departments don’t want to spend any more time than necessary taking the calls of those who need to reach them.

Even calls to 911 can leave you talking to no one, with only a recorded message telling you to wait until someone deigns to speak with you.

That’s why many bureaucracies arrange that when you call for help, you’re fobbed off with a recorded message telling you to visit the company’s or agency’s website.

This assumes, of course, that

  1. You have a computer;
  2. If you do, you also have Internet access; and
  3. All the answers to life’s problems–including yours–can be found on that website.

If you

  • Don’t have a computer;
  • You have a computer but don’t have Internet access;
  • You do have Internet access but the service is down;
  • Can’t find the solution to your problem on the agency/company website

you’re flat out of luck.

And the agency/company couldn’t care less.

But it need not be this way.

Companies and agencies can treat their customers with respect for their time and need for help.

That’s why companies that genuinely seek to address the questions and concerns of their customers reap strong customer loyalty–and the profits that go with it.

One of these is LG, which produces mobile phones, TVs, audio/video appliances and computer products.

LG actually offers an 800 Customer Care number that’s good 24-hours a day.

Its call center is staffed with friendly, knowledgeable people who are willing to take the time to answer customer questions and guide them through the steps of setting up the appliances they’ve bought.

Another company that dares to have human beings stand behind its products–and explain how to use them–is The Sharper Image.

Recently, Dave, a friend of mine, bought an electronic alarm clock that allows you to wake up to a variety of exotic sounds–such as a thunderstorm, the seashore, chirping birds or foghorns.

A brochure on how to set the alarm and sounds came with the clock, but Dave couldn’t make sense of it.  Luckily, there was an 800 number given in the brochure for those who needed to be walked through the necessary steps.

Dave called The Sharper Image and quickly found himself connected with a friendly and knowledgeable customer care rep.  She clearly and patiently explained what he needed to do to choose which sounds he wanted to awaken to.

And then she just as patiently repeated that list of steps while he quickly typed them up for future use if he forgot what to do.

Such an approach to customer service is not new–just extremely rare these days.

In his 1970 bestselling primer on business management, Up the Organization, Robert Townsend offered the following advice to company CEOs: “Call yourself up.”

“When you’re off on a business trip or a vacation,” writes Townsend, “pretend you’re a customer.  Telephone some part of your organization and ask for help.  You’ll run into real horror shows.

“Don’t blow up and ask for name, rank and serial number–you’re trying to correct, not punish.  Just suggest to the manager (through channels, dummy) that he make a few test calls himself.”

So how do you cope with agencies/companies that don’t care enough to help their customers?

I’ll address that in my next column.

WHY PEOPLE HATE CABLE COMPANIES

In Business, Self-Help, Social commentary on December 12, 2014 at 12:01 am

In 1970, Robert Townsend, the CEO who had turned around a failing rent-a-car company called Avis, published what is arguably the best book written on business management.

It’s Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits.

Product Details

Though published 42 years ago, it should be required reading–for CEOs and consumers.

Don’t fear getting bogged down in a sea of boring, theory-ridden material.  As Townsend writes:

“This book is in alphabetical order.  Using the table of contents, which doubles as the Index, you can locate any subject on the list in 13 seconds.  And you can read all I have to say about it in five minutes or less.

“This is not a book about how organizations work.  What should happen in organizations and what does happen are two different things and about as far apart as they can get.  THIS BOOK IS ABOUT HOW TO GET THEM TO RUN THREE TIMES AS WELL AS THEY DO.”

Comcast is the majority owner of NBC and the largest cable operator in the United States. It provides cable TV, Internet and phone service to more than 50 million customers.

So you would think that, with so many customers to serve, Comcast would create an efficient way for them to attain help when they face a problem with billing or service.

Think again.

Consider the merits of Townsend’s short chapter on “Call Yourself Up.”

Townsend advises CEOs: “Pretend you’re a customer.  Telephone some part of your organization and ask for help.  You’ll run into some real horror shows.”

Now, imagine what would happen if Brian L. Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, did just that.

Brian L. Roberts

First, he would find that, at Comcast, nobody actually answers the phone when a customer calls.  After all, it’s so much easier to fob off customers with pre-recorded messages than to have operators directly serve their needs.

And customers simply aren’t that important–except when they’re paying their ever-inflated bills for phone, cable TV and/or Internet service.

Comcast’s revenues stood at $16.8 billion for the third quarter of 2014.

In 2013, Roberts earned $31.4 million in salary, options and other compensation, a 7.7% increase from his $29.1 million compensation package in 2012.

So it isn’t as though the company can’t afford hiring a few operators and instructing them to answer phones directly when people phone in.

But instead of being directly connected to someone able to answer his question or resolve his problem, Roberts would hear:

“Welcome to Comcast–home of Xfinity.”

Then he would hear an annoying clucking sound–followed by the same message in Spanish.

“Your call may be recorded for quality assurance.

“To make a payment now, Press 1.  To continue this call, Press 2.”

Then he would hear: “For technical help, press 1, for billing, press 2.  For more options, press 3.”

Assuming he pressed 2 for “billing,” he would hear:

“For payment, press 1  For balance information, press 2.  For payment locations, press 3.  For all other billing questions, press 4.”

Then he would be told: “Please enter the last four digits of the primary account holder’s Social Security Number.”

Then, as if he hadn’t waited long enough to talk to someone, he would get this message: “Press 1 if you would like to take a short survey after your call.”

By the time he heard that, he would almost certainly not be in a mood to take a survey.  He would simply want someone to come onto the phone and answer his question or resolve his problem.

Then he would hear: “At the present time, all agents are busy”–and be electronically given an estimate by when someone might deign to answer the phone.

“Please hold for the next customer account executive.”

If he wanted to immediately reach a Comcast rep, Roberts would press the number for “sales.”  A sales rep would gladly sign him up for more costly products–even if he couldn’t solve whatever problem Roberts needed addressed.

Assuming that someone actually came on, Roberts couldn’t fail to notice the unmistakable Indian accent of the rep he was now speaking with.

Not Indian as in American Indian–because that would mean his company had actually hired Americans who must be paid at least a minimum American wage for their services.

No, Comcast, like many other supposedly patriotic corporations, “outsources” its “customer service support team” to the nation, India.

After all, if the “outsourced” employees are getting paid a pittance, the CEO and his top associates can rake in all the more.

Of course, the above scenario is totally outlandish–and is meant to be.

Who would expect the wealthy CEO of a major American corporation to actually wait in a telephone queue like an ordinary American Joe or Jane?

That would be like expecting the chief of any major police department to put up with hookers or panhandlers on his own doorstep.

For the wealthy and the powerful, there are always underlings ready and willing to ensure that their masters do not suffer the same indignities as ordinary mortals.

Such as the ones who sign up for Comcast TV, cable or Internet services.

RFK VS. HOFFA: A CLASH OF TITANS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on December 11, 2014 at 12:01 am

The 1983 TV mini-series, “Blood Feud,” chronicles the decade-long struggle between Robert F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa.

As Attorney General, Kennedy declares war–for the first time in American history–on the Mafia.  He forces longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover–who has long refused to tackle the Mob–to investigate and arrest mobsters throughout the nation.

He also brings new charges against Hoffa–and, once again, is outraged to see Hoffa acquitted.

But under the unrelenting pressures of being in the crosshairs of the FBI, Hoffa begins to crack.  He tells a trusted colleague, Edward Grady Partin (Brian Dennehy) how easy it would be to assassinate Kennedy with a rifle or a bomb.

Later, Partin gets into a legal jam–and is abandoned by the Teamsters.  Hoping to cut a deal, he relays word to the Justice Department of Hoffa’s threats against the Attorney General.

Now working for the Justice Department, Partin sends in reports on Hoffa’s juror-bribing efforts in yet another trial.  Hoffa again beats the rap–but now Kennedy has the insider’s proof he needs to put him away for years.

Meanwhile, the Mafia despairs of the increasing pressure of the Justice Department. At a swanky restaurant, several high-ranking members agree that “something” must be done.

[Although this scene is fictional, it’s clearly based on an infamous outburst of Carlos Marcello, the longtime Mafia boss of New Orleans.

Carlos Marcello

In 1962, Marcello–who had been deported to Guatemala by RFK, then illegally re-entered the country–flew into a rage when a business colleague mentioned Kennedy.

“Take the stone out of my shoe!” he shouted, echoing a Sicilian curse.  “Don’t you worry about that little Bobby sonofabitch.  He’s going to be taken care of!”

When his colleague warned that murdering RFK would trigger the wrath of his brother, President John F.Kennedy, Marcello replied: “In Sicily they say if you want to kill a dog you don’t cut off the tail. You go for the head.”

Marcello considered President Kennedy to be the head.  And he added that he planned to use a “nut” to do the job.]

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas.  “Blood Feud” clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible.

[The House Assassinations Committee investigated this possibility in 1978, and determined that Marcello had the means, motiva and opportunity to kill JFK.  But it could not find any conclusive evidence of his involvement.]

Even with the President dead, RFK’s Justice Department continues to pursue Hoffa.  In 1964, he is finally convicted of jury tampering and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment.

Hoping to avoid prison, Hoffa phones Robert Kennedy, offering future Teamsters support if RFK runs  for President. To prove he can deliver, he tells Kennedy that the Teamsters have even penetrated the FBI.

Kennedy confronts J. Edgar Hoover, accusing him of illegally planting wiretaps in Mob hangouts all over the country.

J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy 

Hoover retorts that this had been the only way to obtain the prosecution-worthy intelligence Kennedy had demanded: “You loved that flow of information.  You didn’t want it to stop.”

Kennedy: Why did you keep the FBI out of the fight against the Mob for decades?

Hoover: “Every agency that came to grips with them got corrupted by their money.”

[So far as is known, Hoover never made any such confession.  Historians continue to guess his reason for leaving the Mob alone for decades.]

RFK then mentions the CIA’s plots to employ the Mob to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro

[The agency had wanted to please President Kennedy, and the Mafia had wanted to regain its casinos lost to the Cuban Revolution.]

“The CIA, doing business with the Mob,” says Kennedy. “The FBI, leaking information to its enemies [the Teamsters].”  Then, sadly: “I guess it’s true–everyone does business with everyone.”

[So far as is known, the FBI did not pass on secrets to the Teamsters.  But during the 1970s, the Mafia  penetrated the Cleveland FBI office through bribes to a secretary. Several FBI Mob informants were  “clipped” as a result.]

In 1967, Hoffa goes to prison.  He stays there until, in 1971, President Richard Nixon commutes his sentence in hopes of gaining Teamsters support for his 1972 re-election.

Kennedy leaves the Justice Department in 1964 andis elected U.S. Senator from New York.  In 1968 he runs for President.  On June 5, after winning the California primary, he’s assassinated.

Hoffa schemes to return to the presidency of the Teamsters–a post now held by his successor, Frank Fitzsimmons.  He runs the union in a more relaxed style than Hoffa, thus giving the Mob greater control over its pension fund.

And the Mafia likes it that way.

On July 30, 1975, Hoffa disappears from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant near Detroit.  He had gone there to meet with two Mafia leaders.

Forty years later:

  • Labor unions are a shadow of their former power.
  • The threat they once represented to national prosperity has been replaced by that of predatory  corporations like Enron and AIG.
  • The war RFK began on the Mafia has continued, sending countless mobsters to prison.
  • The idealism that fueled RFK’s life has virtually disappeared from politics.
  • Millions of Americans who once expected the Federal Government to protect them from crime now believe the Government is their biggest threat.

RFK VS. HOFFA: A CLASH OF TITANS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 10, 2014 at 12:10 am

Long ago, in an America increasingly far away….

A young, idealistic attorney named Robert Francis Kennedy declared war on James Riddle Hoffa, the president of the Mafia-dominated International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union.

As chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee, Kennedy was appalled at the corruption he discovered among high-ranking Teamster officials.  As he saw it, under Hoffa’s leadership, the union was nothing less than “a conspiracy of evil.”

Robert F. Kennedy as Chief Counsel, Senate Labor Rackets Committee

Hoffa, in turn, held an equally unflattering view of Kennedy.  “A rich punk,” said Hoffa, who didn’t know or care about “the average workingman.”

In 1983, Blood Feud, a two-part TV mini-series, depicted the 11-year animosity between Kennedy and Hoffa.  Although it took some dramatic liberties, its portrayal of the major events of that period remains essentially accurate.

Today, labor unions are a rapidly-vanishing species, commanding far less political influence than they did 50 years ago.  As a result, young viewers of this series may find it hard to believe that labor ever held such sway, or that the Teamsters posed such a threat.

James Riddle Hoffa testifying before the Senate Labor Rackets Committee

And in an age when millions see “Big Government” as the enemy by millions, they may feel strong reservations about the all-out war that Robert F. Kennedy waged against Hoffa.

The series opens in 1957, when Hoffa (Robert Blake) is a rising figure within the Teamsters. Kennedy (Cotter Smith) is chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee.

At first, Hoffa tries to ingratiate himself with Kennedy, telling him: “I know everybody who can help me and anybody who can hurt me.”

A wily Hoffa decides to parley Kennedy’s anti-corruption zeal into a path to power for himself.  Via his attorney, Eddie Cheyfitz, he feeds Kennedy incriminating evidence against Dave Beck, president of the Teamsters.

Robert Blake as James Hoffa

Confronted with a Senate subpoena, Beck flees the country–paving the way for Hoffa to assume the top position in the union. Hoffa believes he has solved two problems at once.

With the ousting of Beck, Kennedy should now be satisfied: “He’s got his scalp.  Now he can move on to other things while I run the union.”

But Hoffa has guessed wrong–with fatal results. Realizing that he’s been “played” by Hoffa, a furious Kennedy strikes back.

Cotter Smith as Robert Kennedy

He orders increased surveillance of Hoffa and his topmost associates.  He subpoenas union records and members of both the Teamsters and Mafia to appear before his committee in public hearings.

And he tries to enlist the aid of legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Ernest Borgnine).  But Hoover wants no part of a war against organized crime, whose existence he refuses to admit.

Meanwhile, Kennedy’s confrontations with Hoffa grow increasingly fierce. In open hearings, Kennedy accuses Hoffa of receiving kickbacks in the name of his wife.  Hoffa damns him for “dirtying my wife’s name.”

Kennedy secures an indictment against Hoffa for hiring a spy to infiltrate the Senate Labor Rackets Committee. He’s so certain of a conviction that he tells the press he’ll “jump off the Capitol building” if Hoffa beats the rap.

But Hoffa’s lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams (Jose Ferrer) puts Kennedy himself on the witness stand.  There he portrays Kennedy as a spoiled rich man who’s waging a vendetta against Hoffa.

Hoffa beats the rap, and offers to send Kennedy a parachute.  But he jokingly warns reporters: “Hey, Bobby, you better have it checked.  I don’t trust myself!”

By 1959, Kennedy’s work as chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee is over.  But not his determination to send Hoffa to prison.

Throughout 1960, he manages the Presidential campaign for his brother, John F. Kennedy (Sam Groom).  By a margin of only 100,000 votes, John wins the election.

Hoffa thinks that his troubles are over, that “Bobby” will move on to other pursuits and forget about the Teamsters.

Kennedy moves on to another job–the office of United States Attorney General.  For Hoffa, it’s a nightmare come true.

JFK, needing someone in the Cabinet he can trust completely, browbeats Robert into becoming the the nation’s top cop.

As Attorney General, Kennedy must no longer beg J. Edgar Hoover to attack organized crime.  He can–and does–order him to do so.

Throughout the country, the Mafia feels a new heat as FBI agents plant illegal electronic microphones (“bugs”) in their innermost sanctums.  Agents openly tail mobsters–and sending them to prison in large numbers.

And Kennedy sets up a special unit, composed of topflight prosecutors and investigators, to go after just one man: James Riddle Hoffa.  The press comes to call the “Get Hoffa” squad.

Hoffa continues to beat federal prosecutors in court.  But he believes he’s under constant surveillance by the FBI, and his nerves are starting to give way.

Convinced that the FBI has bugged his office, he literally tears apart the room, hoping to find the bug.  But he fails to do so.

What he doesn’t know is he’s facing a more personal danger–from one of his closest associates.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FIRST THUG FAMILIES OF THE UNITED STATES!

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 9, 2014 at 12:55 am

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus want President Barack Obama to invite the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner to his State of the Union address in January, 2015.

Chief among these is Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), who said: “I think that would be appropriate and fitting.  It would help educate and sensitize other members and humanize some of the issues that we’re going to confront.”

And Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) stated: “Those families are symbols of an issue that needs to be urgently addressed in America.”

If Obama does not invite the families, Black Caucus members suggested that they might use their guest tickets to invite them.

But they claimed that no invitations have yet been extended for the President’s speech.

Obama is expected to speak about the Brown and Garner deaths during his speech.

The State of the Union address delivered by the President of the United States to a joint session of Congress every January.

The address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows Presidents to outline their legislative agenda and their national priorities.

President Barack Obama giving his State of the Union address

The address fulfills Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which requires the President to from time to time give Congress information on the “state of the union.”

For decades, Presidents have invited specific guests to join the First Lady in the gallery of the House of Representatives. These guests enable the Chief Executive to symbolize the policy points he wishes to make.

For his 2002 State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush invited Hamid Karzai, the interim leader of Afghanistan. This underscored the commitment of American troops to ridding that country of its Talibanistic elements.

Inviting members of the Brown and Garner families as Obama’s favored guests would send a message to both Americans and the world beyond.

But it would prove a highly controversial act of symbolism.

In the case of the family of Michael Brown:

Michael Brown (left) roughing up a store owner

Lesley Mcspadden

Louis Head calls for arson in Ferguson

Does the President of the United States really want to link himself to this family of thugdom?

Then there is the family of Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold on July 17.

While no incriminating evidence has yet come to light concerning his relatives, Garner himself had a lengthy police record.

State of the Union addresses are occasions where the President seeks to rally Congress–and, more importantly, the nation–behind goals that are certain to have widespread support.

Congressional Republicans fiercely oppose Obama’s unilateral decision to shelter up to five million illegal aliens from deportation and enable them to work in the country legally.

They have heatedly debated various ways of opposing him on this–including once again shutting down the government, forbidding him to appear before Congress to give his State of the Union address and cutting off fuel to Air Force One.  Click here: Ground Air Force One? GOP Proposals to Stop Obama on Immigration – Washington Wire – WSJ

Inviting as his guests members of families whose members have a documented history of lawbreaking would prove widely divisive along racial lines.

Overhwleming majorities of whites continue to believe that Obama is “not one of us.” And members of law enforcement of all races would believe that Obama was taking the side of known criminals against them.

With only two more years in office, Obama will need all the unity he can create if he hopes to enact much of his remaining agenda. 

RACE AND CRIME

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 8, 2014 at 12:00 am

Are some races more prone to crime–and especially violence–than others?

It remains a hotly-debated topic.  But while the origins of crime remain debatable, the races of its perpetrators and victims can be–and have been–statistically tabulated.

And those statistics haven’t changed much during the last 40 years.

Consider this:

In 1971, Robert Daley, a reporter for the New York Times, became a deputy police commissioner for the New York Police Department (NYPD).

In that capacity, he saw the NYPD from the highest levels to the lowest–from the ornate, awe-inspiring office of  Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy to the gritty, sometimes blood-soaked streets of New York.

He spent one year on the job before resigning–later admitting that when he agreed to take the job, he got more than he bargained for.

It proved to be a tumultuous year in the NY’D’s history:  Among those challenges Daley and his fellow NYPD members faced were the murders of several police officers, committed by members of the militant Black Liberation Army.

Two of those murdered officers were Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini.  Jones was black, Piagentini white; both were partners.  Both were shot in the back without a chance to defend themselves.

Writing about these murders in a bestselling 1973 book–Target Blue: An Inside’s View of the N.Y.P.D.–Daley noted:

  • Jones and Piagentini were the sixth and seventh policemen–of ten–murdered in 1971.
  • About 18 men were involved in these murders.  All were black.
  • The city’s politicians knew this–and so did Commissioner Murphy.  None dared say so publicly.

“But the fact remained,” wrote Daley, “that approximately 65% of the city’s arrested murderers, muggers, armed robbers, proved to be black men; about 15% were of Hispanic origin; and about 20% were white [my italics].

The overall racial breakdown of the city was approximately:

  • Whites, 63%;
  • Blacks, 20%;
  • Hispanics 17%.

Stated another way: Blacks, who made up 20% of the city’s population, were responsible for 65% of the city’s major crimes.

Or, as Daley himself put it: “So the dangerous precincts, any cop would tell you, were the black precincts.”

That was 42 years ago.

Now, consider the following statistics released by the NYPD for “Crime and Enforcement Activity in New York City” in 2012.  Its introduction states:

“This report presents statistics on race/ethnicity compiled from the New York City Police Department’s records management system.”

Then follows this chart:

Misdeanor Criminal Mischief
Victim, Suspect, Arrestee Race/Ethnicity                                                                  

American Indians:            Victims:  0.7%   Suspects:  0.3%   Arrestees: 0.3%

Asian/Pacific Islanders:  Victims:  8.4%     Suspects: 3.2%    Arrestees: 3.9%

Blacks:                         Victims: 36.5%  Suspects:  49.6%  Arrestees:  36.5%

Whites:                        Victims: 28.9%   Suspects: 17.0%   Arrestees:  22.9%

Hispanics:                   Victims:  25.4%  Suspects:  29.8%  Arrestees:  36.4%

Total  Victims:        40,985       

Total Suspects:     11,356  

Total Arrests:         7,825

Then come the guts of the report:

Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter Victims:

  • Black (60.1%)
  • Hispanic (26.7%)
  • White victims (8.7%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (4.2%)

Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter Arrestees:

  • Black (51.4%)
  • Hispanic (36.7%)
  • White (9.2%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islander (2.6%)

Rape Victims:

  • Black (37.9%)
  • Hispanic (36.9%)
  • White victims (19.2%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (5.4%)

Rape Arrestees:

  • Black (48.6%)
  • Hispanic (42.8%)
  • White (5.0%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islander (3.1%)

Other Felony Sex Crimes Victims:

  • Black (40.7%)
  • Hispanic (33.6%)
  • White victims (19.6%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (5.9%)

Known Other Felony Sex Crime Arrestees:

  • Black (42.3%)
  • Hispanic (39.8%)
  • White (12.6%)
  • Asian /Pacific Islander (5.1%)

Robbery Victims:

  • Hispanic (36.1%)
  • Black (31.9%)
  • White victims (18.3%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (12.8%)

Robbery Arrestees:

  • Black (62.1%)
  • Hispanic (29.0%)
  • White (6.2%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islander (2.5%)

Felonious Assault Victims:

  • Black (47.8%)
  • Hispanic (33.6%)
  • White (12.4%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (5.5%)

Felonious Assault Arrestees:

  • Black (52.3%)
  • Hispanic (33.6%)
  • White (9.4%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (4.5%)

Grand Larceny Victims:

  • White (42.4%)
  • Black (25.0%)
  • Hispanic (20.1%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (11.8%)

Grand Larceny Arrestees:

  • Black (52.0%)
  • Hispanic (28.5%)
  • White (14.6%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (4.8%)

Shooting Victims:

  • Black (74.1%)
  • Hispanic (22.2%)
  • White (2.8%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (0.8%)

Shooting Arrestees:

  • Black (75.0%)
  • Hispanic (22.0%)
  • White (2.4%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islander (0.6%)

Drug Felony Arrest Population:

  • Black (45.3%)
  • Hispanic (40.0%)
  • White (12.7%)
  • Asian Pacific Islanders (1.9%)

The Drug Misdemeanor Arrest Population

  • Black (49.9%)
  • Hispanic (34.5%)
  • White (13.3%)
  • Asian Pacific Islanders (2.1%)

The Felony Stolen Property Arrest Population:

  • Black (52.5%)
  • Hispanic (28.9%)
  • White (14.5%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (4.0%)

The Misdemeanor Stolen Property Arrest Population:

  • Black (47.1%)
  • Hispanic (30.2%)
  • White (16.9%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (5.4%)

Violent Crime Suspects:

  • Black (66.0%)
  • Hispanic (26.1%)
  • White (5.8%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (1.9%)

Reported Crime Complaint Juvenile Victims:

  • Black (43.5%)
  • Hispanic (38.7%)
  • White (11.6%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islander (5.8%)

Juvenile Crime Complaint Arrestees:

  • Black (58.6%)
  • Hispanic (32.6%)
  • White (5.8%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islander (2.8%)

Appendix B of the report offers a breakdown of New York City’s racial makeup:

                                                                Total Numbers        % the City’s Population  

  • White                                               2,722,904                         (33.3%)
  • Black                                               1,861,295                         (22.8%)
  • Hispanic                                          2,336,076                         (28.6%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders                     1,030,914                          (12.6%)

Thus, while Blacks make up 22.8% of New York City’s population, they comprise

  • 51.4% of its murder and non-negligent manslaughter arrests;
  • 48.6% of its rape arrests;
  • 42.3% of its known other felony sex crime arrests;
  • 62.1% of its robbery arrests;
  • 52.3% of its felonious assault arrests;
  • 52.0% of its grand larceny arrests;
  • 75.0% of its shooting arrests;
  • 45.3% of its drug felony arrests;
  • 49.9% of its drug misdemeanor arrests;
  • 52.5% of its felony stolen property arrests;
  • 47.1% of its misdemeanor stolen property arrests;
  • 66.0% of its violent crime suspects;
  • 58.6% of its juvenile crime complaint arrests.

While Hispanics make up 28.6% of the city’s population, they account for:

  • 36.7% of its murder and non-negligent manslaughter arrests;
  • 42.8% of its rape arrests;
  • 39.8% for its known other felony sex crime arrests;
  • 29.0% of its robbery arrests;
  • 33.6% of its felonious assault arrests;
  • 28.5% of its grand larceny arrests;
  • 22.0% of its shooting arrests;
  • 40.0% of its drug felony arrests;
  • 34.5% of its drug misdemeanor arrests;
  • 28.9% of its felony stolen property arrests;
  • 30.2% of its misdemeanor stolen property arrests;
  • 26.1% of its violent crime suspects;
  • 26.1% of its juvenile crime complaint arrests.

In short:

During the first six months of 2012, 96% of shooting victims were blacks or Hispanics–and in 97% of all cases, the shooters were other blacks or Hispanics.

Blacks and Hispanics comprise 89% of murder victims–and 86% of murder suspects.  Of felony assault victims, 81% are non-whites, as are 88% of the suspects.

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