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Posts Tagged ‘FBI’

REPUBLICANS: SLANDERING THE HEROES OF 9/11

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on February 27, 2015 at 1:53 am

With their newfound majorities in both houses of Congress, Republicans are holding the budget of the Department of Homeland Security–and the safety of their fellow Americans–hostage.

Amidst all this turmoil, it’s easy to forget another Republican outrage that happened five years ago: The slander they cast on the patriotism of the tens of thousands of police, firefighters, construction workers and others who risked their lives to save their fellow Americans on 9/11.

The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

This “gift” was sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and eagerly supported by other Republicans in the House and Senate.

Rep. Cliff Stearns

The responders were informed that their names must be run through the FBI’s database of suspected terrorists. Otherwise, they would be denied treatment for their numerous, worsening ailments.

In 2010–nine years after the worst terrorist attack in American history–Congress passed the Democratically-sponsored James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Act.

The law was named for a New York City detective who died of a respiratory disease in 2006 after his contact with toxic chemicals at Ground Zero.

The law authorized $1.8 billion to be spent over five years to treat injuries of police, firefighters, emergency workers, construction and cleanup crews caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris at the site.

From the outset, Republicans bitterly opposed the legislation.  They argued that providing healthcare for ailing September 11 heroes would bankrupt the nation.

Of course, they hadn’t voiced such concerns when President George W. Bush needlessly launched the nation into a $1 trillion war against Iraq in 2003.

For Republicans, the heroes of 9/11 had become “welfare-seeking bums.”  If they couldn’t afford their own medical care, so what?

Republicans slandered the proposal as a new “entitlement program,” like Medicare.  They demanded that the responders return to Congress every year to make their case, claiming this would prevent fraud and waste.

“If this issue is so credible based on the results of September 11, we shouldn’t be afraid of going through the (budget) authorization process and fight for the spending bill,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

Republicans forced Democrats to accept an amendment that deliberately cast a slur on the men and women who answered their country’s call in its supreme moment of agony. Only then was the legislation passed.

The amendment read: “No individual who is on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security shall qualify as a screening-eligible WTC survivor or a certified-eligible WTC survivor.

“Before determining any individual to be a screening-eligible WTC survivor…or certifying any individual as a certified eligible survivor….the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine whether the individual is on such list.”

The amendment provoked outrage among non-politicians, Democrats and even some Republicans.  Among these:

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)  whose district encompassed Ground Zero, said it was “absurd” to consider that any of the 9/11 heroes would be terrorists.  He added that the screenings were a “waste of money.”
  • Rep. Peter King (R-NY) called the exercise “shameful” and “a waste of time,” adding: “It put a cloud over extraordinarily good people for no reason.”
  • “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart noted that the federal government didn’t run background checks on any other group of people receiving financial benefits. These included Social Security recipients, Medicare patients and even Wall Street bankers bailed out during the recession.

Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, advised doctors and hospital administrators to begin letting patients know before the new program took effect in July, 2011.

Specifically, patients seeking help under 9/11 treatment and monitoring programs were told that their

  • names
  • birthplaces
  • addresses
  • government ID numbers
  • and other personal data

would be provided to the FBI to prove they were not terrorists.

Firefighters rescuing victims at the World Trade Center

Howard’s instructions to medical providers included a sample letter to responders designed to minimize alarm:

“Although neither we nor [the Centers for Disease Control]/NIOSH anticipate the name of any individual in the current Programs will be on the list, CDC/NIOSH is expressly required by law to implement this particular requirement of the Act.

“Thank you for your understanding. We look forward to working with you and ensuring that you continue to receive uninterrupted services under the new WTC Health Program,” it concluded.

By August, 2011, the FBI had screened some 60,000 emergency responders to the attacks on the World Trade Center and had not uncovered any suspected terrorists. To date, no matchups have occurred between known terrorists and those seeking treatment.

Glen Kline, a former NYPD emergency services officer, best summed up the disgrace of these background checks: “This is absurd. It’s silly. It’s stupid. It’s asinine.  I mean, who are we even talking about–the undocumented workers who cleaned the office buildings?

“We know who all the cops, firefighters and construction workers were. They’re all documented.  Is the idea that a terrorist stayed to help clean up? And then stayed all these years to try and get benefits?”

Thus, self-righteous Right-wing legislators–who never lifted a beam from a trapped 9/11 survivor or inhaled toxic fumes that spewed from the crater that was once the World Trade Center–now stood in judgment over those who did.

MACHIAVELLI WAS RIGHT: DISTRUST THE RICH

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 16, 2015 at 2:04 am

As Americans vacation their way through yet another observance of Presidents’ Day, it’s well to remember the man whose name defines modern politics.

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman who has been called the father of modern political science, published his best-known work: The Prince.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Among the issues he confronted was how to preserve liberty within a republic.  And key to this was mediating the eternal struggle between the wealthy and the poor and middle class.

Machiavelli deeply distrusted the nobility because they stood above the law.  He saw them as a major source of corruption because they could buy influence through patronage, favors or nepotism.

Successful political leaders must attain the support of the nobility or general populace.  But since these groups have conflicting interests, the safest course is to choose the latter.

….He who becomes prince by help of the [wealthy] has greater difficulty in maintaining his power than he who is raised by the populace.  He is surrounded by those who think themselves his equals, and is thus unable to direct or command as he pleases. 

But one who is raised to leadership by popular favor finds himself alone, and has no one, or very few, who are not ready to obey him.   [And] it is impossible to satisfy the [wealthy] by fair dealing and without inflicting injury upon others, whereas it is very easy to satisfy the mass of the people in this way. 

For the aim of the people is more honest than that of the [wealthy], the latter desiring to oppress, and the former merely to avoid oppression.  [And] the prince can never insure himself against a hostile population on account of their numbers, but he can against the hostility of the great, as they are but few.

The worst that a prince has to expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned, but from hostile nobles he has to fear not only desertion but their active opposition.  And as they are more far seeing and more cunning, they are always in time to save themselves and take sides with the one who they expect will conquer. 

The prince is, moreover, obliged to live always with the same people, but he can easily do without the same nobility, being able to make and unmake them at any time, and improve their position or deprive them of it as he pleases.

Unfortunately, political leaders throughout the world–including the United States–have ignored this sage advice.

The results of this wholesale favoring of the wealth and powerful have been brilliantly documented in a recent investigation of tax evasion by the world’s rich.

In 2012, Tax Justice Network, which campaigns to abolish tax havens, commissioned a study of their effect on the world’s economy.

The study was entitled, “The Price of Offshore Revisited: New Estimates for ‘Missing’ Global Private Wealth, Income, Inequality and Lost Taxes.”

http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_120722.pdf

The research was carried out by James Henry, former chief economist at consultants McKinsey & Co.  Among its findings:

  • By 2010, at least $21 to $32 trillion of the world’s private financial wealth had been invested virtually tax-­free through more than 80 offshore secrecy jurisdictions.
  • Since the 1970s, with eager (and often aggressive and illegal) assistance from the international private banking industry, private elites in 139 countries had accumulated $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of unrecorded offshore wealth by 2010.
  • This happened while many of those countries’ public sectors were borrowing themselves into bankruptcy, suffering painful adjustment and low growth, and holding fire sales of public assets.
  • The assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments.
  • The offshore industry is protected by pivate bankers, lawyers and accountants, who get paid handsomely to hide their clients’ assets and identities.
  • Bank regulators and central banks of most countries allow the world’s top tax havens and banks to hide the origins and ownership of assets under their supervision.
  • Although multilateral institutions like the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the IMF and the World Bank are supposedly insulated from politics, they have been highly compromised by the collective interests of Wall Street.
  • These regulatory bodies have never required financial institutions to fully report their cross-­border customer liabilities, deposits, customer assets under management or under custody.
  • Less than 100,000 people, .001% of the world’s population, now control over 30% of the world’s financial wealth.
  • Assuming that global offshore financial wealth of $21 trillion earns a total return of just 3% a year, and would have been taxed an average of 30% in the home country, this unrecorded wealth might have generated tax revenues of $189 billion per year.

Summing up this situation, the report notes: “We are up against one of society’s most well-­entrenched interest groups. After all, there’s no interest group more rich and powerful than the rich and powerful.”

Fortunately, Machiavelli has supplied a timeless remedy to this increasingly dangerous situation:

  • Assume evil among men–and most especially among those who possess the greatest concentration of wealth and power.
  • Carefully monitor their activities–the way the FBI now regularly monitors those of the Mafia and major terrorist groups.
  • Ruthlessly prosecute the treasonous crimes of the rich and powerful–and, upon their conviction, impose severe punishment.

HOLLYWOOD: ITS OWN WORST ENEMY

In Business, History, Social commentary on January 13, 2015 at 12:55 am

The cyberhacking of Sony Pictures last December led many Americans to wonder: “Is this the end of the movie industry as we know it?”

Yet Hollywood doesn’t need cyberattackers–whether from North Korea, as the FBI alleges, or fired ex-employees of Sony, as others believe–to seek its destruction.

It has long been its own worst enemy.

On July 22, 2014, a headline in the Hollywood Reporter offered this insight into moviedom’s current woes: “Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter.”

Click here: Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter

Movie Theater

It’s hard to think of an industry that’s created a better recipe for self-destruction than the movie business.

Consider the following:

According to Rentrak, a company that keeps tabs on box office profits:

  • Ticket sales to movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada are expected to sink to $3.9 billion.
  • In July, movie ticket sales were down 30%.
  • That’s a 15% decline in movie revenues when compared to those racked up during the summer of 2013.
  • For the first time in 13 years, no summer film netted $300 million in domestic ticket sales.

Among this summer’s films that disappointed movie studios:

  • “The Expendables 3″
  • “Planes:  Fire and Rescue”
  • “Amazing Spider Man 2″
  • “Sex Tape”
  • “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
  • “Edge of Tomorrow”
  • “Transformers: Age of Extinction”
  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2″

Click here: Film Industry Has Worst Summer Since 1997

Analysts had predicted a drop-off in movie attendance owing to increased use of online streaming.  They also expected major television events like the World’s Cup to keep moviegoers indoors.

But they didn’t expect the summer of 2014 to prove the worst in ticket sales since 1997.

Actually, the wonder is that the movie business hasn’t collapsed already.

It’s hard to think of an industry more geared toward its own destruction than the movie business.

First, there’s the before-mentioned average ticket price of $8.33.  You don’t have to be an Einstein at math to multiply $8.33 by, say, a husband, wife, and two to four children.

So a couple with two children can expect to spend at least $33.32 just to get into the theater.  A couple with four children will be gouged $49.98 for a single movie’s entertainment.

And that’s not including the marked-up prices charged for candy, soda and popcorn at the concession stand.

Second, it’s almost guaranteed that even the biggest potential movie “draw” will be released on DVD or streaming within three to six months after it hits theaters.

Putting out a film on DVD so soon after its theater-release only cheapens the thrill of seeing it in a movie theater.

So if you need to save enough money each month to meet the rent and other basic needs, you’re likely to wait it out for the DVD to  hit stores.  Wait even longer than six months, and you can probably buy a cheaper used DVD.

With that, you can watch your new favorite movie as many times as you want–-without being charged bigtime every time you do so.

This is especially tempting to those with big-screen TVs, whose prices have steadily fallen and are now affordable by almost everyone.

Third, there are the TV-like commercials that overwhelm audiences waiting for the movie to start.

There used to be an unspoken agreement between theaters and moviegoers: We’ll pay a fair price to see one movie.  In return, we don’t expect to see commercials.

Naturally, that didn’t include previews of coming attractions.  These have been a widely enjoyed part of the movie experience since the 1930s.

But starting in 2003, theaters began aiming commercials at their customers before even the previews came on.  Some industry sources believe cinema advertising generates over $200 million a year in sales.

Even so, it turns movie-theaters into expensive TVs, and thus cheapens the special experience of seeing a movie in a theater.

Click here: Now showing at a theatre near you – Louisville – Business First

But for those who feel they’ve already suffered enough at the ticket booth, being forced to watch TV-style ads is simply too much.

Fourth, while some theaters provide lush seating and special help for their customers (such as closed-captioning for the deaf) many others do not.

At AMC theaters, an onscreen advisory tells you to seek help if you need it.   But your chances of finding an available usher range from slim to none at most theaters.

To sum it up: What was once thought a special experience has become a jarring assault on the pocketbook and senses.

Just as airlines are now widely considered to be “flying buses,” so, too are movie theaters fast becoming expensive TV sets for moviegoers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, theaters lured customers from small-screen TVs with film spectacles like “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus.”  Or with new “you-are-there” film experiments like Cinnemascope.

“Family-friendly” movies like “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” proved box-office champs with millions.

But now theaters have allowed their greed–for high ticket prices, quick-release DVDs and/or streaming and TV-style ads–to drive much of their audiences away.

Unless the owners of movie studios–-and movie theaters–quickly smarten up, the motion picture business may ultimately became a pale shadow of its former Technicolor self.

JAMES BOND GONE WRONG

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 12, 2015 at 12:23 am

James Bond, the legendary creation of novelist Ian Fleming, routinely bedded femme fatales–and sometimes killed them. But he never faced indictment for romancing them.

That’s the difference between Bond and David Petraeus, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Movie poster for Thunderball (1965)

The Justice Department is deciding whether to bring criminal charges against Petraeus.  The FBI  alleges that, as CIA director, he shared classified information with his then-mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell.

FBI agents found classified information on a personal computer Broadwell used–and determined that Petraeus had supplied it.

As an Army General, Petraeus had successfully led U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and was thought to be a potential candidate for president.

In 2011, he won appointment to CIA director–which ended abruptly in 2012 with the revelation of his extramarital affair with Broadwell.

Petraeus is one of the most highly educated men in the United States:

  • Alumnus of the United States Military Academy at West Point–graduating among the top 5% of his 1974 class.
  • General George C. Marshall Award winner as the top graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College class of 1983.
  • Earned an M.P.A. in 1985 and a Ph.D. in International Relations in 1987 from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
  • Served as Assistant Professor of International Relations at the United States Military Academy

David Petraeus

And Paula Broadwell is one of the most highly educated women in the United States:

  • Graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1995, majoring in political geography.
  • Earned a master’s degree in international security from the University of Denver’s Joseph Korbel School of International Studies in 2006.
  • Earned a Master of Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2008.
  • A Research Associate in the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership Fellows.

Paula Broadwell

In addition, Petraeus, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, knew the importance of secrecy in keeping clandestine affairs (military and personal) out of sight.

So did Broadwell, having earned a reputation as an expert on counterterrorism.

Yet they both violated the most basic rules of security.

They exchanged emails using a cyber trick known to both terrorists and teenagers: Sharing a private email account, or “dropbox.”

In this they composed drafts to each other in order not to directly transmit messages to one another.  Each could log onto the same account and read the draft emails there.

By doing so, they flagrantly left a cyber-trail of their infidelities. (Broadwell was also married.)

It was Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, who warned: If you don’t want it known, don’t write it down.

More than 500 years ago, in his masterwork, The Discourses, he warned:

Niccolo Machiavelli

I have heard many wise men say that you may talk freely with any one man about everything, for unless you have committed yourself in writing, the “Yes” of one man is worth as much as the “No” of another. 

And therefore one should guard most carefully against writing, as against a dangerous rock, for nothing will convict you quicker than your own handwriting….

You may escape, then, from the accusation of a single individual, unless you are convicted by some writing or other pledge, which you should be careful never to give.

Nor were Petraeus and Broadwell the only ones guilty of thumbing their noses at this most basic of precautions.

General John Allen, the top American commander in Afghanistan, exchanged thousands of emails  with Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite.

Although charged with directing American military efforts against the Taliban, Allen found time to exchange 20,000 to 30,000 pages’ worth of emails with Kelley between 2010 and 2012.

The scandal began when Kelley began receiving harassing emails from an unidentified woman.  So she complained to the FBI.

The emails allegedly came from Broadwell, who thought that Kelley was trying to move in on “her man”–Petraeus.  Apparently, Broadwell didn’t feel similarly threatened by Holly, Petraeus’ wife.)

The FBI investigation ultimately led to the discovery of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair.

There are several lessons to be learned from this behavior by Petraeus, Broadwell, Allen and Kelley:

  • They believed they were so privileged–by education, status and/or wealth–that conventional rules of morality didn’t apply to them.
  • They believed they were so clever they could violate the most basic rule of security and common sense–and get away with  it.
  • They were so caught up in their illicit passions that they threw caution to the winds.
  • David Petraeus, a highly disciplined man, clearly expected Paula Broadwell to behave in a similarly disciplined manner–and do nothing to compromise their lives.
  • Petraeus felt so confident about the secrecy of his affair he had his wife and mistress present when he appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2011 to become CIA director.

General David Petraeus’ CIA confirmation hearings. His wife, Holly (in white) and mistress, Paula Broadwell (in black).

  • Petraeus didn’t imagine that Broadwell suspected another of his admirers–Jill Kelley–of having romantic designs on him.
  • And he was utterly surprised when her harassing emails to Kelley led the FBI to uncover his illicit relationship.

Thus does hubris meet its punishment in Nemesis.

“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.

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.

“WE WANT TO GIVE YOU MONEY”: PART THREE (END)

In Business, Law, Law Enforcement, Self-Help, Social commentary on November 7, 2014 at 12:00 am

According to the charity Citizens Advice, online scammers are preying on as many as four million people each year.

How can you protect yourself from becoming one of them?  Look for these characteristics in the emails you receive:

  1. Unsolicited:  You’re told you’ve won a lottery you never entered, or have inherited a fortune from someone you never knew existed.
  2. Addressed Generally: “Attention!” “Dear Friend,” “Attention the owner of this email,” “Hello, Dear.”  Your name is not mentioned, because this email has been mass-mailed to thousands of intended victims.
  3. Appeals to religion: “Hello Beloved in the Lord” or “Yours in Christ” seeks to create a bond with those who deeply believe in God.
  4. Misuse of English: Mis-spellings and faulty grammar usually denote someone–probably a foreigner–using English as a second language.   Examples: Run-on sentences; “you’re” for “your”; “except” instead of “accept”; “Dear Beneficial” instead of “Dear Beneficiary.”
  5. Appeals to Sympathy: “My husband just died” or “I am dying of cancer.”  This is to make you feel sorry for the sender and lower your guard as an intended victim.
  6.  Use of Important Titles/Organizations: “Director,” ‘Barrister,” “Secretary General of the United Nations,” “Police Inspector.”  This is to impress recipients and convince them that the email comes from a trusted and legitimate organization.
  7. Request for Personal Information: This includes some combination of: Name / Address / Telephone Number / Bank Name / Bank Account Number / Fax Number / Driver’s License Number / Occupation / Sex / Beneficiary / Passport Number
  8. Claims of Deposit: “We have deposited the check of your fund to your account” is a typical line to instantly grab your attention.  Someone you’ve never heard of claims he has just put a huge amount of money into an account you know nothing about.  Nor can you access it unless you first pay a “contact fee.”
  9. The “Bank” is in Africa: Unless you know you have relatives there, this should be a dead giveaway to a scam.  Africa is a continent kept alive by the charity of other nations.  It’s not in the business of doling out large sums of money to Westerners.
  10. Overseas Phone Numbers: If you call these, you’ll have a huge bill.  So many people skip calling and just send the money “required” to receive their “cash prize.”
  11. Highly Personal Requests: Asking you–someone they’ve never met–to assume the burden of acting as the executor of their “Last Will and Testament.”
  12. Love Scams: The scammer poses as a man or woman–usually outside the United States–seeking love.  A series of emails flows back and forth for days/weeks, until the scammer says s/he will be glad to fly to the United States to be yours.  All you have to do is put up the money for the flight cost.
  13. “Make Money From Home”: With most employers refusing to hire, “work from home” scams  promise a way to support yourself and your family.  You’re required to provide bank information or pay an up-front “registration fee.”  Then you wait for job orders–that never come.
  14. Debt Relief: Scammers promise to relieve most or all of your debt–for a large up-front fee.  You pay the fee–and are not only out of that money but still in debt.
  15. Home Repair Schemes: Huge down payments are required for home repairs that never happen.
  16. “Free” Trial Offcers: The service or product is free for awhile, but you must opt out later to avoid monthly billings.
  17. The Email Claims to Be From the FBI: Often the “address” includes “Anti-Terrorist and Monetary Crime Division.”  One such email was addressed: “Dear Beneficiary” and offered help in obtaining a “fund.”  The FBI is an investigative agency responsible to the U.S. Department of Justice.  It does not resolve financial disputes or secure monies for “deserving” recipients.   If the FBI wants to contact you, it will do so by letter or by sending agents to your address.  The FBI’s own website states: “At this time we do not have a national e-mail address for sending or forwarding investigative information.”
  18. “I Need Help”: You get an email claiming to be from someone you know–who’s “in jail here in Mexico” or some other foreign country.  S/he begs you to send money for bail or bribes to win his/her freedom.  If you get such an email, call the person to make certain.  Don’t rush to send money–chances are it will go directly to a scammer.

FBI Headquarters: Where stopping cybercrime is now a top priority.

There are several commonsense rules to follow in protecting yourself from online scammers:

  • Don’t trust people you’ve never met to want to give you money.
  • Shop online only with well-known merchants who have a good reputation.
  • If an email from a stranger asks you to send money, don’t do it.  If the sender claims to be a friend, call your friend first to make sure it came from him.
  • Don’t click on unknown links–especially those in emails from unknown senders.
  • If you’re required to pay an advance fee–“on faith”–to receive a big amount of money, the odds are it’s a scam.
  • If you can’t find any solid information on a company, chances are it doesn’t exist.
  • Under its new director, James Comey, the FBI is mounting a major effort against cybercrime.  Click on its page at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber for solid advice on how to protect yourself online.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, the odds are: It is untrue.

‘WE WANT TO GIVE YOU MONEY”: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Law, Law Enforcement, Self-Help, Social commentary on November 6, 2014 at 12:00 am

According to Internet emails, the world is filled with wealthy, generous people who want to make you–someone they haven’t even met–a multi-millionaire.

Here are some more of their emails:

* * * * *

Hello My Dear Winner.

I have contacted you because I have sent you the first transfer of your wining fund sum of $5000.00 from your winning total amount sum of $3.5Million

USD, therefore you need to contact our Western Union agent Dr. Michael David, western union the Manager to give you the transfer payment information and

MTCN to enable you start picking-up your transfer in any Western Union in your city.

Contact Western Union Agent: Dr.Michael David Email;(westerunion005@hotmail.com) Office phone #:+2348166294234

Urgently Contact him to avoid cancelling your wining fund, so try to contact him immediately today for him to forward the MTCN information to you, indicate the Wining Number registration code of EB-2520 to him, when contacting or calling him +2348166294234,

He will be sending you $5000. 00 daily as per our bank discussion with him.

Do get in touch with me once you have received your money complete.

Sinc erely,

Contact him with email below ;(westerunion005@hotmail.com)

Mrs Susan Obrial

* * * * *

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Anti-Terrorist And Monitory Crime Division.
Federal Bureau Of Investigation.
INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUNDS
J.Edgar.Hoover Building Washington Dc
Customers Service Hours / Monday To Saturday
Office Hours Monday to Saturday:

Dear Beneficiary,

Series of meetings have been held over the past 7 months with the secretary general of the United Nations Organization. This ended 3 days ago. It is obvious that you have not received your fund which is to the tune of $2.3million Usd due to past corrupt Governmental Officials who almost held the fund to themselves for their selfish reason and some individuals who have taken advantage of your fund all in an attempt to swindle your fund which has led to so many losses from your end and unnecessary delay in the receipt of your fund.

The National Central Bureau of Interpol enhanced by the United Nations and Federal Bureau of Investigation and the International monetary funds have successfully passed a mandate to the current president of Nigeria his Excellency President Good luck Jonathan to boost the exercise of clearing all foreign debts owed to you and other individuals and organizations who have been found not to have receive their Contract Sum, Lottery/Gambling, Inheritance and the likes. Now how would you like to receive your payment? Because we have two method of payment which is by Check or by ATM card?

ATM Card: We will be issuing you a custom pin based ATM card which you will use to withdraw up to $3,000 per day from any ATM machine that has the Master Card Logo on it and the card have to be renewed in 4 years time which is 2018. Also with the ATM card you will be able to transfer your funds to your local bank account. The ATM card comes with a handbook or manual to enlighten you about how to use it. Even if you do not have a bank account.

Check: To be deposited in your bank for it to be cleared within three working days. Your payment would be sent to you via any of your preferred option and would be mailed to you via UPS. Because we have signed a contract with UPS which should expire in the next three weeks you will only need to pay $280 instead of $620 saving you $340 So if you pay before the three weeks 2011 you save $340 Take note that anyone asking you for some kind of money above the usual fee is definitely a fraudsters and you will have to stop any communication with every other person if you have been in contact with any. Also remember that all you will ever have to spend is $280.00 nothing more!

Nothing less! And we guarantee the receipt of your fund to be successfully delivered to you within the next 24hrs after the receipt of payment has been confirmed.

Note: Everything has been taken care of by the Federal Government of Nigeria the International Monetary Funds, The United Nation and also the FBI and including taxes, custom paper and clearance duty so all you will ever need to pay is $280.

DO NOT SEND MONEY TO ANYONE UNTIL YOU READ THIS: The actual fees for shipping your ATM card is $420 but because UPS have temporarily discontinued the C.O.D which gives you the chance to pay when package is delivered for international shipping We had to sign contract with them for bulk shipping which makes the fees reduce from the actual fee of $620 to $280 nothing more and no hidden fees of any sort!

To effect the release of your fund valued at $2.3million Usd you are advised to contact our correspondent in Africa the delivery officer Mr Danny Blessed with the information below,

Full Name:Mr Danny Blessed
Email: dannyblessed07@gmail.com
Telephone: +1 910-300-7443
You are advised to contact him with the informations as stated below:

Your full Name..
Your Address:…………..
Home/Cell Phone:…………..
Occupation:………………..
Preferred Payment Method (ATM / Cashier Check)

Upon receipt of payment the delivery officer will ensure that your package is sent within 24 working hours. Because we are so sure of everything we are giving you a 100% money back guarantee if you do not receive payment/package within the next 24hrs after you have made the payment for shipping.

Yours sincerely,
Miss Donna Story
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20535

* * * * *

Good day;

I wish to inform you that your outstanding debt has been scheduled for immediate payment to you Via Western Union Money Transfer . You are to contact Western Union for your payment of USD$1,500.000.00 USD with the below information’s.

FULL NAME:………………….
CONTACT ADDRESS:…………….
DIRECT PHONE/CELL NUMBER……….(for easy communication)

Send the above listed information’s to the Fund Verification Department Office on the information below:

Contact Person: Mrs.Rosemary Umar
Mobile:  +229 9873 5986
E-mail: ( western.union099@administrativos.com )

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