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Posts Tagged ‘NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI’

BENEDICT ARNOLD–CAPITALIST HERO: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on June 2, 2015 at 12:01 am

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern politics, warns in his masterwork, The Discourses:

All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it.

If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself. But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Where the crimes of corporate employers are concerned, we do not have to wait for their evil disposition to reveal itself. It has been fully revealed for decades.

It’s time to recognize that a country can be betrayed for other than political reasons.  It can be sold out for economic ones, too.

Trea$on

The United States desperately needs a new definition of treason–one that takes the above-mentioned truth into account.

  • Employers who set up offshore accounts to claim their American companies are foreign-owned—and thus exempt from taxes—are traitors.
  • Employers who enrich themselves by weakening their country—by throwing millions of qualified workers into the street and moving their plants to other countries—are traitors.
  • Employers who systematically violate Federal immigration laws—to hire illegal aliens instead of willing-to-work Americans—are traitors.

And with a new definition of treason should go new penalties–heavy fines and/or prison terms–for those who sell out their country to enrich themselves.

A starting-point must be an all-out campaign to educate voters on the need for major reforms in corporate law.

One non-profit, non-partisan organization that’s already pursuing this is Public Campaign.

Its goal: Eliminating special interest money in American politics by securing publicly-funded elections at local, state and federal levels.

According to its website:

“Twenty-five profitable Fortune 500 companies, some with a history of tax dodging, spent more on lobbying than they paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2012….

“Over the past five years, these 25 corporations generated nearly $170 billion in combined profits and received $8.7 billion in tax rebates while paying their lobbyists over half a billion ($543 million), an average of nearly $300,000 a day.

“Based on newly released data by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), these 25 companies actually received tax refunds overall those five years.

“So most individual American families and small businesses have bigger tax bills than these corporate giants. Unfortunately, most American families and businesses do not have the lobbying operation and access these 25 companies enjoy.”

25 Companies That Spent More On Lobbyists Than Taxes | Public Campaign

Then comes the list:

Several companies on this list are well-known–and spend millions of dollars on self-glorifying ads every year to convince consumers how wonderful they are.

Among these:

  • General Electric
  • PG&E Corp.
  • Verizon Communications
  • Boeing
  • Consolidated Edison
  • MetroPCS Communications

But non-profit organizations alone can’t mount and sustain the sort of nationwide, bluntly-worded educational effort that’s long overdue.

The United States Government–through such agencies as the Justice Department–should start and maintain a nationwide advertising campaign of its own.  Its goal: To educate voters on the real-life greed and public irresponsibility of such corporations.

It should be modeled on the efforts of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to  publicize the dangers of organized crime.

During that campaign, he issued the following warning:

“If we do not, on a national scale, attack organized criminals with weapons and techniques as effective as their own, they will destroy us.”

That warning applies equally to criminal corporations.

Robert F. Kennedy

Republicans–and some Democrats–have worked tirelessly to defend the greed of the richest and most privileged 1% of America.

For example, they ingeniously dubbed the estate tax–-which affects only a tiny, rich minority–-“the death tax.”  This makes it appear to affect everyone.

As a result, millions of poor and middle-class Americans who will never have to pay a cent in estate taxes vigorously oppose it.

By doing so, they unknowingly support the greed of the very richest Americans who despise the needs of those poorer than themselves.

Democrats should thus cast reform efforts in terms that will prove equally popular.  For example:

“Corporate Criminals: Giving You the Best Congress Money Can Buy.”

“De-regulation = Let Criminals Be Criminals.”

“[Name of corporation] Pays a Lower Percentage in Taxes than You.”

“Corporations Are Greedy People, Too” 

“Owning a Corporation Shuldn’t Be a License for Treason”

Such an advertising campaign could lay the groundwork for an all-out Federal effort to reign in that greed and irresponsibility thrugh appropriate reform legislation.

It was Stephen Decatur, the naval hero of the War of 1812, who famously said: “Our country, right or wrong.”

Stephen Decatur

Billionaire tax-cheats and their Right-wing allies have coined their own motto: “My wallet–first and always.”

BENEDICT ARNOLD–CAPITALIST HERO: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on June 1, 2015 at 12:54 am

The British offered Revolutionary War General Benedict Arnold £20,000 for betraying West Point to the Crown.

Benedict Arnold

But Arnold was a piker compared to companies that are raking in literally billions of untaxed dollars by betraying the United States in its time of economic trial.

To avoid paying their legitimate share of taxes, they move their headquarters overseas to countries with reduced tax rates. In tax parlance, this is called an “inversion.”

For almost 20 years, tax-avoiding corporations fled to Caribbean countries such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. But in 2004, Congress ruled that American companies could relocate overseas if foreign shareholders owned 20% of their stock.

But increased media attention to “income inequality” has led Democratic lawmakers to press for a long-overdue reform: Raising the stock threshold to 50%.

This would make it harder for firms to abandon their country.

These are the companies abandoning the U.S. to dodge taxes – The Washington Post

Yet a more comprehensive reform package would include:

  • American companies that move their headquarters out of the United States would be officially declared “agents of a foreign power engaged in treasonous activity against the United States.”
  • Under this designation, these “foreign-owned” companies would be forbidden to sell products within the United States.
  • As “agents of a foreign power,” their assets would be subject to confiscation by agents of the Internal Revenue Service.
  • The citizenship of those Americans engaged in such treasonous activity would be revoked and they would be ordered to leave the United States on pain of criminal prosecution for treason.

Below is a chart compiled by the Ways and Means Committee Democrats of the U.S. House of Representatives.  It compiles 47 corporate “inversions” within the last decade.

From the chart’s introduction:

“Forty-seven U.S. corporations have reincorporated overseas through corporate inversions in the last 10 years, far more than during the previous 20 years combined, according to new data compiled by the Congressional Research Service [CRS].

“In total, 75 U.S. corporations have inverted since 1994 – with one other inversion occurring in 1983. What’s more, there are a dozen prospective inversion deals involving U.S. corporations looking to reincorporate overseas, according to CRS

“The new data underscores the significant increase in the number of U.S. corporations that have or are seeking to lower their U.S. taxes by reincorporating overseas.

“It also adds urgency to a legislative solution. Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin in May introduced legislation that would tighten rules to limit inversions.

“The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the legislation would save $19.5 billion over 10 years. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Carl Levin.

“‘Barely a week seems to pass without news that another corporation plans to move its address overseas simply to avoid paying its fair share of U.S. taxes,’” said Ranking Member Levin.

“These corporate inversions are costing the U.S. billions of dollars and undermining vital domestic interests.

“‘We can and should address this problem immediately through legislation to tighten rules to limit the ability of corporations to simply change their address and ship U.S. tax dollars overseas.’”

New CRS Data: 47 Corporate Inversions in Last Decade | Committee on Ways and Means

Among those companies that have chosen to betray their country in its time of economic need:

  • Medtronic Pharmaceuticals.  Revenues: $16.5 billion
  • Perrigo/Elan Pharmaceuticals.  Revenues: $3.5 billion
  • Chiquita Brands.  Revenues: $3 billion
  • Liberty Global PLC Cable Company.  Revenues: $17.3 billion
  • Eaton/Cooper Power Management.  Revenues: $22 billion
  • Pentair Water Filtration.  Revenues: $7.5 billion
  • AON Insurance.  Revenues: $11.8 billion
  • Global Indemnity Insurance.  Revenues: $319 billion
  • ENSCO International (oil and gas drilling).  Revenues: $4.9 billion
  • Coviden Healthcare.  Revenues: $10.2 billion
  • Herbalife International (nutrition).  Revenues:  $4.8 billion
  • Ingersoll-Rand (industrial manufacturer).  Revenues: $12.3 billion
  • Accenture Consulting.  Revenues: $28.6 billion
  • Seagate Technology.  Revenues: $14.4 billion
  • Tycho International (manufacturing).  Revenues: $10.6 billion
  • Chicago Bridge & Iron.  Revenues: $11.1 billion
  • Transocean (offshore oil drilling).  Revenues: $9.4 billion
  • White Mountain Insurance.  Revenues: $2.3 billion

The most popular countries for these “inversions” are:

  • The Cayman Islands
  • Bermuda
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Switzerland
  • Netherlands

BENEDICT ARNOLD–CAPITALIST HERO: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 29, 2015 at 12:08 am

On May 13, 2012, Forbes magazine ran an Op-Ed piece under the headline: “For De-Friending The U.S., Facebook’s Eduardo Saverin Is an American Hero.”

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York angrily disagreed.

Chuck Shumer

“It is scary. It is a scary, absurd place where even a tax dodger who renounces America for his own 30 pieces of silver is celebrated as a patriot and an American hero.

“It is perverse. I am appalled by making heroic a man who renounces citizenship to escape a tax rate of capital gains of 15%.

“No one gets rich in America on their own,” Schumer said. “And when people do well in America, they should do well by America. I believe the vast majority of Americans believe this too.”

From that Op-Ed piece:

“Saverin’s flight from the U.S. is yet another reminder of the superiority of a national consumption tax that in a perfect world would be implemented in concert with the abolition of the I.R.S.”

It’s tempting to imagine a world without an agency to collect taxes. But it’s nightmarish to contemplate a world where there were no taxes to pay for

  • a powerful military to protect us;
  • an FBI to combat terrorism and organized crime;
  • an FAA to safely regulate airline traffic;
  • agencies to repair roads;
  • agencies to erect public buildings (such as schools, courts and libraries) and
  • agencies (such as the EPA and FDA) to protect us from predatory businessmen.

The Op-Ed piece further asserts that “you cannot limit the power of the Federal Government if its officials hold the power to tax incomes.”

Every nation in history–-whether a democracy or a dictatorship, whether capitalist, socialist or communist–-has understood the absolute necessity for collecting public revenues. And it has created means by which to do so.

“When individuals resist governmental hubris, we should exalt their actions.”

We should, in short, celebrate those who come to the United States to make fortunes they could not make anywhere else–-and then, when they do, turn their backs on their adopted country.

We should rejoice that they have stuffed billions of dollars more into their already-fat pockets and left their supposed fellow countrymen to shift for themselves.

“In an ideal world the Federal Government should implement a consumption tax.  And if, as a result, poor people suffer because they’re taxed at the same level as rich ones, fine. 

“Everyone should know how much it costs to run the government.”

Of course we should have a “regressive” tax that “hits low incomes at the same percentage as high ones.”  

Of course, those who are barely able to feed their families or can’t afford medical care should pay as much in taxes as a rich parasite who, like Mitt Romney, throws out $10,000 bets like so many dimes.

“If the Federal Government can’t fund all its programs because rich people like Saverin refuse to pay taxes, then U.S. taxpayers generally will have to make good for the missing taxes.  It’s the fault of Congress that ir cannot put an end to any program.”

For billionaires like Saverin and the well-heeled types who subscribe to Forbes, it doesn’t matter that “fewer government programs will achieve funding.”

Greed-obsessed “swells” like Saverin:

  • don’t depend on Medicare–they can easily afford the best doctors money can buy;
  • don’t have to depend on Social Security to see them through old age;
  • don’t have to worry about standing in food bank lines;
  • don’t need to rely on police departments–if they’re threatened, they can easily afford round-the-clock bodyguards;
  • don’t need consume protection agencies; if they’re victimized by unscrupulous businessmen, they can hire platoons of lawyers and private detectives.

A contemporary writer who warned of America’s abandonment by its privileged classes was Christopher Lasch.  In his posthumously published last book, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy [2005] he wrote:

The Revolt Of The Elites And The Betrayal Of Democracy

“There has always been a privileged class, even in America. But it has never been so dangerously isolated from its surroundings.

“George Bush’s [the president who served from 1989 to 1992] wonderment, when he saw for the first time an electronic scanning device at a supermarket checkout counter, revealed…the chasm that divides the privileged classes from the rest of the nation.”

Until recently, wrote Lasch, American cultural and economic elites willingly shouldered civic responsibilities.  But in post-modern capitalism, a professional elite defines itself as entirely separate from civic concerns.

The new elites flourish through enterprises that operate across international borders.  The rich in America have more in common with the fellows in Europe or Asia than with the vast majority of their fellow Americans who don’t share their comfortable surroundings.

Thus, the privileged class in America–-the top 1%–has separated itself from the crumbling public services and industrial cities that are used and lived in by the rest of the country’s citizens.

Even worse, our society has condoned their exalted status. The dust jacket blurb for James Patterson’s crime-thriller, NYPD Red, says it best:

“NYPD Red is a special task force charged with protecting the interests of Manhattan’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens.”

It’s time to protect the 99% of America’s citizens against the predations of its 1% wealthiest.

BENEDICT ARNOLD–CAPITALIST HERO: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 28, 2015 at 12:28 am

On May 15, 2012, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin renounced his U.S. citizenship.

Born in Brazil, the 30-year-old Saverin became a U.S. citizen in 1998 but had lived in Singapore since 2009.

Eduardo Saverin 

Giving up his citizenship allowed him to avoid paying taxes on billions of dollars on capital gains when Facebook launched its IPO on May 18, 2012.  Singapore does not have a capital gains tax.

And America’s fascist Right couldn’t have been happier.

Take Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing talk-show host.  The Rush Limbaugh Show airs throughout the U.S. on over 400 stations and is the highest-rated talk-radio program in the United States.

When Limbaugh speaks, his “dittohead” audience listens—and acts as he decrees.

Rush Limbaugh

“So if it’s a more favorable tax haven that you can find elsewhere and you go there,” asked Limbaugh, “why is it automatically that you are unpatriotic?

“Why is it automatically that you are a coward, that you are not paying your fair share? It’s this whole class envy thing rearing its head again.”

For Limbaugh, the villain isn’t a billionaire who turns his back on the country that gave him the opportunity to become one.  No, the villain lies in those who believe that even wealthy businessmen should behave like patriots–instead of parasites.

“But [Barack Obama is] out there demonizing successful people every day,” said Limbaugh, “targeting successful people every day, running a presidential campaign based on class warfare, trying to get the 99% of the country who are not in the top 1% to hate the 1%, to literally despise ’em.”

Consider the implications of this:

On November 1, 2011, Forbes magazine reported that, in 2007, the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.6% of the country’s total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%.

Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.

According to Limbaugh’s philosophy, the bottom 80% of the popularion owning 15% of the country’s wealth should pay homage to the top 20% of Americans who own 85% of the country’s wealth.

In short, they should “know their place” and not expect the moneyed few to pay their fair share of taxes.

Of course, this is to be expected of Limbaughwhose own wealth makes him a multi-millionaireIn 2001, U.S. News & World Report noted that Limbaugh had an eight-year contract, with Clear Channel Communications, for $31.25 million a year.

And according to a July 2, 2008, Matt Drudge column, Limbaugh signed a contract extension through 2016 that is worth over $400 million.

And Limbaugh wasn’t alone in his praise for Saverin.

Another right-winger who defends those who run out on their country is anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

On May 7, 2012, two Democratic Senators—Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania—introduced legislation designed to tax expatriates even after they have left the country.

Their “Ex-PATRIOT Act” would impose a mandatory 30% tax on American investments for those who renounce their citizenship and would also prohibit individuals like Saverin from re-entering the country.

“Saverin has turned his back from the country that welcomed him, kept him safe, educated him and helped him become a billionaire,” Schumer said at a press conference. He added that it was time to “de-friend” the Facebook co-founder.

Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATF) said the targeting people that turn in their passports reminded him of regimes that had driven people out of the country, only to confiscate their wealth at the door.

Grover Norquist

“I think Schumer can probably find the legislation to do this,” said Norquist. “It existed in Germany in the 1930s and Rhodesia in the ’70s and in South Africa as well. He probably just plagiarized it and translated it from the original German.”

On the floor of the Senate, Schumer denounced Norquist in return:

“I know a thing or two about what the Nazis did. Some of my relatives were killed by them.

“Saying that a person who made their fortune specifically because of the positive elements in American society, in turn, has a responsibility to do right by America is not even on the same planet as comparing to what Nazis did to Jews.”

Chuck Schumer

Schumer added that he found it troubling that conservatives would lionize someone like Saverin, who was called “an American hero” by Forbes magazine.

On May 13, 2012, Forbes–which describes itself as “The Capitalist Tool”–had run an Op-Ed piece under the headline: “For De-Friending The U.S., Facebook’s Eduardo Saverin Is an American Hero.”

“Can you believe it?” asked Schumer.  “An American hero? Renouncing your citizenship now qualifies as heroic for the hard right-wing?”

“This has gone so far, this idolatry they have taken to such an extreme end, they make Eduardo Saverin into their patron saint.  In the name of low taxes for the wealthy, they have lionized an inherently unpatriotic person.”

“SCARFACE” REVISITED

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 19, 2015 at 2:55 pm

It’s a scene familiar to anyone who’s seen Scarface, the 1983 classic starring Al Pacino as a Cuban drug dealer who makes it big in the cocaine business.

Tony Montana (Pacino) is holding curt in his Florida estate.  His visitor is a WASP-ish banker.

Bankers as a rule don’t make house calls. But Tony is no ordinary customer–his men literally haul bags full of bills into the bank when making deposits.

Except that now the banker has some unpleasant news for Tony:

We’re not a wholesale operation.  We’re a legitimate bank.  The more cash you give me……the harder it is for me to rinse.

“The fact is I can’t take any more of your money unless I raise the rates on you.”

TONY: You gonna raise…

BANKER: I gotta do it.

BANKER: The IRS is coming…

TONY:  Don’t give me that shit! Let’s talk.  I’m talking.  I go low, you go high.  I know the game.  This is business talk.

BANKER:  Let me explain something.  The IRS is coming down heavy on South Florida.  There was a Time magazine story that didn’t help. 

There’s a recession. I got stockholders I got to be responsible for.  I got to do it, Tony.

Tony Montana’s personal banker gives him some bad news

TONY: We’ll go somewhere else.  That’s it.   

BANKER:  There’s no place else to go.

TONY: Fuck you, man! Fuck you! I’ll fly the cash myself to the Bahamas.

BANKER: Once maybe. Then what?  You’ll trust some monkey in a Bahamian bank with millions of your hard-earned dollars? 

Come on, Tony. Don’t be a schmuck. Who else can you trust? That’s why you pay us what you do. You trust us.

Stay with us. You’re a well-liked customer. You’re in good hands with us.

(At this point, movie audiences burst into laughter.  The line, “You’re in good hands with us” seemed directly lifted from the slogan used by Allstate Insurance: “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”)

Now, fast forward to 2014.

A Reuters news story dated May 21, 2014 noted that investigators from the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) were probing Charles Schwab and Bank of America Corporations Merrill Lynch brokerage.

The SEC wants to determine if these brokerages violated anti-money laundering rules that require financial institutions to know their customers.

Broker-dealers are required to establish, document and identify customers and verify their identities in compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act.

In 2012, David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen, ordered regulators to guarantee that financial institutions are identifying the true beneficial owners of their accounts.

The reason: Drug cartels and terrorist groups have become highly creative in hiding and transferring their illegal funds.

According to sources close to the investigation, Charles Schwab and Merrill accepted shell companies and persons with phony addresses as clients.

In both cases, some of the accounts were eventually linked to drug cartels.  Some of those accounts held hundreds of thousands of dollars; others held millions.

A Texas rancher and Charles Schwab client transferred money to a holding company that was actually a shell company.

Most of the Schwab clients being investigated lived near the Mexican border. Some were linked to Mexican drug cartels.

Click here: Exclusive: SEC probes Schwab, Merrill, for anti-money laundering violations – sources | Reuters

No further stories could be found on the Internet to update the progress of these investigations.

In fact, the government should have assumed long ago that brokerage companies were engaging in such behavior.

As Niccolo Machiavelli warned in The Discourses, his landmark book on how to preserve freedom within a republic:

All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it. 

If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself. 

But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Whenever the creating of wealth becomes an end in itself, all other ends are sacrificed to this.

Greed begins in the neurochemistry of the brain. A neurotransmitter called dopamine fuels our greed. The higher the dopamine levels in the brain, the greater the pleasure we experience.

Harvard researcher Hans Breiter has found, via magnetic resonance imaging studies, that the craving for money activates the same regions of the brain as the lust for sex, cocaine or any other pleasure-inducer.

Federal investigators need to view large concentrations of wealth as sources for at least potential corruption.

And they should ruthlessly–and routinely–investigate those sources, whether in the vaults of the Mafia or of major financial institutions.

FEAR WORKS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 21, 2015 at 12:43 am

Ralph bought a computer security program from SUX.  But then he found he couldn’t download it.

So he contacted the company—whose customer service representative told him: You’ll have to buy another of our products to make the first one you bought work properly.

At that point, Ralph had had enough.

He sent SUX an email via its own website, outlining his problem and asking that the $60 charge on his credit card be removed.

Six days later, Ralph called his credit card company, to see if SUX was still charging him for an item he hadn’t received.

It was.

It was time to play Machiavellian hardball.

Ralph once again dialed SUX to speak to one of its customer service reps.

Calmly–but firmly–Ralph identified himself, then quickly summarized the problem he was having with the company.

Then he said:

“I suggest you contact someone in management and tell them this: I want this charge off my credit card in 24 hours.  If it isn’t, here’s what’s going to happen:

“One: I’m going to file a criminal complaint with the local office of the United States Attorney [Federal prosecutor] for fraud against your company.

“When a company does business in more than one state, that brings it under Federal jurisdiction.  And there are Federal penalties for charging people for products they didn’t receive.

“Two, I’m going to make this situation very well known on social media sites.  That’s going to cost you bigtime on future customers.

“Again, I’ll wait 24 hours.  Pass this on to your management.”

Then he hung up.

Slightly more than 24 hours later, Ralph got this email from SUX:

“Thank you for ordering from SUX.  At your request a return has been initiated.”

In short: The charge would be removed from his credit card.

There are several important lessons to be learned here.

First, before you call to complain, make sure the product isn’t working.

Read the instructions carefully and follow them to the letter.

If you can’t understand the instructions, or if you feel you do and the product still isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, call the company.

Second, when you reach the customer service rep, be patient and polite.

At best, getting angry and offensive wastes valuable time which could be better spent outlining the problem you’re having.

At worst, the tech might hang up on you, which means you’ll have to go through the whole telephone-tree exercise again.

Third, explain precisely what has gone wrong.  If the tech gives you instructions on how to resolve the problem, follow them to the letter.

Fourth, if you’re sure you want to return the product, say so.

Find out the company’s preferred way to do this.

Fifth, if you’ve paid for it by credit card, state that you want the charge removed from your bill.

You may have to wait until the company receives the product before they take the charge off your bill.  To make sure they get it, send it signed-receipt-requested.

Sixth, wait five to ten days to see if your credit card has been charged. 

Ralph waited six, which is a reasonable number.

Seventh, if the problem hasn’t been resolved, call the company again and ask to speak to someone on its corporate headquarters—the higher up, the better.

You can often find out the names of the top executives of a company by checking its website.  Or by going to a business-rating website, such as that of Standard and Poor’s.

Eighth, be polite but businesslike as you outline your problem.

If you can’t outline it in one or two minutes, ask for an email address where you can send a detailed email.

Ninth, state clearly what you want the company to do for you.

Often, people get so angry at the frustration they’ve endured that they forget to say what action they want the company to take.

Tenth, if the company rep makes it clear they won’t take back the product, give you a substitute, or refund your purchase, it’s time to play hardball.

Eleventh, if you believe the law has been broken, say so. 

And say which agencies you intend to contact—such as the local District Attorney’s Office, Federal Trade Commission, United States Attorney or Federal Communications Commission.

Twelth, have at least one or two consumer complaint websites ready to cite—and contact.

A

Among these:

Businesses fear bad consumer reviews–especially on Yelp! and Facebook.

When I once visited a local animal shelter, a receptionist told me: “If you have a problem with something, please see me.  Don’t go home and post it on Yelp!

Thirteenth, tell the company official what action you intend to take unless your demands are met. 

Offer a deadline by when you expect that action to be taken.

Fourteenth, if that doesn’t prove enough, consider filing a private lawsuit.

FEAR WORKS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 20, 2015 at 12:13 am

So you’ve just bought something online, with a credit card–and the item never arrives–or proves defective.

Even worse, the online company insists on charging your credit card for the item.

What to do?

Here’s what a friend of mine–Ralph–recently did when he faced just that problem.

One night, while surfing the Internet, he saw an ad for a new computer security product.  For him, its biggest selling point was: “Make yourself invisible to the bad guys with just one click.”

An even stronger selling point for him: The product was being offered by SUX, the company whose anti-virus software he had subscribed to for the last three years.

And, so far, he had never had any trouble with the company.

SUX offered several options for subscription:

  • One month
  • One year
  • Two years

Ralph decided that one month was too short, and two years were too long.  He chose a one-year subscription, intending to renew at the end of the year if he liked it.

He typed in his credit card number and clicked on “Download.”

Soon afterward, he received an Order Confirmation email from the company, outlining the product he had just purchased and the amount he had just paid for it.

He then got into the anti-virus security item on his desk.  A few clicks later a new screen popped up–and the message: “Disconnected.”

Even worse, the screen warned: “Your license has expired.  Renew now.”

The product he had just paid $60 to download hadn’t downloaded.

So Ralph called SUX–and explained to a technician what had happened.

And the tech responded: “We don’t offer phone support for that product.”

Nothing Ralph said could elicit the help he needed.  Furious at the man’s arrogance, Ralph hung up.

To avoid accidentally reaching the same worthless technician, Ralph decided to wait several hours before again calling SUX.

When he did, he reached a technician who was willing to provide help.  The tech said that he would like to run a remote scan on Ralph’s computer to try to find out what was causing the problem.

Ralph agreed.

For the next five minutes he could see his cursor moving around his screen, as the tech checked first one file, then another.

Finally, the tech said that Ralph needed to “clean out” his computer before the SUX product he bought would work properly.

“OK, how do I do that?” asked Ralph.

“You need to buy our BS2U product,” said the tech.

Now Ralph was really steamed.

He had just spent $60 on a product he couldn’t download.  And the tech was telling him he had to spend even more money on a second product to make the first product work properly.

Ralph then said he wanted to contact someone in an executive positon at SUX.  But the rep said he would have to call outside the United States to do this.

Ralph hung up, then got back onto his computer and onto the SUX website.  He drafted a short but detailed message on the problems he was facing with one of the company’s products.

And it ended:

“Frankly:

(1) I am UNABLE to make use of the product I paid $60 for; and

(2) I am UNWILLING to pay MORE MONEY FOR ANOTHER PRODUCT in hopes that this will enable me to use the one I just purchased.

“Therefore, I am requesting that the credit card transaction I had with your company on —- be canceled.  If it is not, I will dispute this via my credit card company when I receive my next statement.

“To enable you to quickly locate this transaction in your files, I am enclosing the Order Confirmation Number:  #———-.

“I am making a copy of this email, so I can establish, if necessary, that I have notified your company that I am NOT receiving the product I paid for.

“I have already contacted my credit card company and informed them that I will contest this charge if your company does not make good on this refund.”

Six days later, Ralph called his credit card company, to see if SUX was still charging him for an item he hadn’t received.

It was.

Luckily for Ralph, he had been a longtime student of Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science.

Niccolo Mchiavelli

In The Prince, his treatise on how to gain and hold political power, Machiavelli raises the question: Is it better to be loved or feared?

And he answers as follows:

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.”

It was time to invoke the spirit of St. Niccolo.

HOW TO BE A SMARTER EXECUTIVE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Self-Help on March 13, 2015 at 12:08 am

“The man who builds a factory,” said President Calvin Coolidge, “builds a temple.  And the man who works there worships there.”

Many American corporate executives still feel about themselves–nd their employees.  But those heady days of knee-jerk worship of CEOs and their oversize salaries and egos are over–at least, temporarily.

Americans have reluctantly learned that the robber barons who rule Wall Street arenot God’s own elect.

Even Ayn Rand disciple Allen Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman and a longtime champion of de-regulation, has admitted he totally underestimated the role greed plays in the making of financial decisions.

It’s thus time for Americans to demand wholesale reforms in the ways corporate executives are allowed to operate. And a good place to start is with the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli.

The Florentine statesman (1469-1527) wrote extensively about how bureaucracies truly work–as opposed to how people believe they do.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Consider the following from his book, The Prince, which offers instruction on how to attain and retain power:

  • IMITATE THOSE WHO HAVE ATTAINED GREATNESS: Not always being able to follow others exactly, nor attain to the excellence of those he imitates, a prudent man should always follow in the paths trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent….  If he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.
  • DON’T RELY ON LOVE:  …I conclude, therefore, with regard to being loved and feared, that men love at their own free will, but fear at the will of the prince, and that a wise prince must rely on what is in his power and not on what is in the power of others, and he must only contrive to avoid incurring hatred….
  • NEED TO BE PRACTICAL:  A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good.  And therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.
  • CAUTION AND BOLDNESS: A [leader]…must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves.  One must therefore be a fox to avoid traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.  Those who wish to be only lions do not realize this.
  • SANCTIONS VS. FAVORS:  [Leaders] should let the carrying out of unfavorable duties devolve to others, and bestow favors themselves.
  • RISK AS A GIVEN: Let no [leader] believe that [he] can always follow a safe policy, rather let [he] think that all are doubtful.  This is found in the nature of things, that one never tries to avoid one difficulty without running into another, but prudence consists in being able to know the nature of the difficulties, and taking the least harmful as good.
  • A RULER’S SUBORDINATES: The first impression that one gets of a ruler and his brains is from seeing the men that he has about him.  When they are competent and loyal one can always consider him wise, as he has been able to recognize their ability and keep them faithful.
  • But when they are the reverse, one can always form an unfavorable opinion of him, because the first mistake that he makes is in making this choice.
  • EVALUATING COMPETENCE:  There are three different kinds of brains: the one understands things unassisted, the other understands things when shown by others, the third understands neither alone nor with the explanations of others.  The first kind is most excellent; the second is also excellent; but the third is useless.
  • OVERCOMING ONE’S OWN NATURE:  No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to [time and circumstances], either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him.
  • Or else because having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it; and therefore the cautious man, when it is time to act suddenly, does not know how to do so and is consequently ruined.  For if one could change one’s nature with time and circumstances, fortune would never change.
  • ENSURING LOYALTY:  A wise prince will seek means by which his subjects will always have need of his government, and then they will always be faithful to him.
  • CRUELTIES:  Well-committed may be called those…cruelties which are perpetrated once for the need of securing one’s self, and which afterward are not persisted in, but are exchanged for measures as useful to the subjects as possible.  Cruelties ill committed are those which, although at first few, increase rather than diminish with time.
  • FORTUNE: I think it may be true that fortune is the ruler of half our actions, but that she allows the other half or thereabouts to be governed by us.
  • I would compare her to an impetuous river that, when turbulent, inundates the plains, casts down trees and buildings, removes earth from this side and places it on the other; every one flees before it, and everything yields to its fury without being able to oppose it.  Still, when it is quiet, men can make provisions against it by dykes and banks, so that when it follows it will either go into a canal or its rush will not be so wild and dangerous.

BARBARISM ISN’T GOOD P.R.

In History, Military, Politics on February 17, 2015 at 6:30 pm

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been in the news a great deal lately–and for reasons most organizations try to avoid.  Or at least cover up. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by

  • Russia
  • the United States
  • Canada
  • the European Union
  • Australia
  • Turkey
  • the United Nations
  • Indonesia
  • the United Kingdom
  • Saudi Arabia
  • the United Arab Emerites
  • Egypt
  • India and
  • Malaysia

It been condemned by such well-known human rights organizations as Amnesty International.  And a major reason for this is the evidence of its brutalities that ISIS has proudly supplied. Among this evidence are its own Internet videos of

  • the beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists, and aid workers;
  • the burning of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot;
  • demands for extortionate ransoms for kidnapped Japanese and American captives;
  • the wholesale shooting of captured Iraqi soldiers; and
  • the selling of captured children.

The release on February 3 of a video showing the barbaric “execution” of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh, underscored ISIS reputation for cruelty

Al Kasaesbeh, locked in a steel cage like an animal, could only watch stoically as an ISIS member ignited a trail of flammable liquid leading directly to him.  The pilot stood upright throughout the ordeal until the flames at last consumed him.

Image result for Images of burning to death of Jordanian pilot

ISIS burning of captured Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh 

Terrorism experts believe that the elaborately-staged video was meant to weaken the morale of Jordan and other Sunni Arab members of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.

But it violated a fundamental rule of public relations: If you commit atrocities, do it secretly so you can deny it if the truth ever comes out.

That’s how the members of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s dreaded secret police–the N.K.V.D.–the predecsssors to the later-named KGB–operated throughout their brutal history.

In 1939, when the Soviet Union seized the eastern half of Poland, the N.K.V.D. executed 22,000 Polish army officers in the dense Katyn forest.

N.K.V.D. executioner

The government of Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in the forest in 1943.  The Soviet Union furiously denied responsibility, claiming the victims had been executed by the Germans.

The Soviets continued to deny responsibility for the massacres until 1990, when the government finally admitted its guilt.

ISIS has turned out videos of its brutalities which film experts have declared are almost up to the quality of Hollywood spectaculars.  But ISIS leaders have apparently forgotten–if they ever knew–the truth of the saying: “You can make a throne of bayonets, but you can’t sit on it.”

Niccolo Machiavelli, in his classic work, The Discourses, offered a telling example of how magnanimity can triumph over brutality.

Camillus was besieging the city of the Faliscians, and had surrounded it….A teacher charged with the education of the children of some of the noblest families of that city [to ingratiate himself] with Camillus and the Romans, led these children…into the Roman camp.

And presenting them to Camillus [the teacher] said to him, “By means of these children as hostages, you will be able to compel the city to surrender.”

Camillus not only declined the offer but had the teacher stripped and his hands tied behind his back….[Then Camillus] had a rod put into the hands of each of the children…[and] directed them to whip [the teacher] all the way back to the city.

Upon learning this fact, the citizens of Faliscia were so much touched by the humanity and integrity of Camillus, that they surrendered the place to him without any further defense.

This example shows that an act of humanity and benevolence will at all times have more influence over the minds of men than violence and ferocity. It also proves that provinces and cities which no armies…could conquer, have yielded to an act of humanity, benevolence, chastity or generosity.

What Machiavelli doesn’t say–but what history offers plenty of examples to substantiate–is this: The brutality of aggressors will be met–and sometimes overcome–with brutality by their past or intended victims.

Nowhere was this better proved than during the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Without warning, three million German soldiers–backed up by overwhelming air and tank support–attacked their “ally” on June 22, 1941.

The Wehrmacht blitzed its way across Russia–to the gates of Moscow and as far south as Stalingrad on the Volga River. In its path it left devastated cities and at least 20 million dead Russians.

German soldiers moving into a burning Russian village

Russian women were gang-raped, then shot, or blown up with hand grenades. Tens of thousands of captured Russian soldiers were allowed to die of hunger, sickness and freezing cold behind barbed wire.  Other captured POWs were brutally beaten, tortured and/or shot.

But then the tide of war turned and the Russians launched their own offensives in 1943.  And they kept going–all the way to Berlin.

Russians raped tens of thousands of German women–and nailed others to barn doors.  Cossacks cut off the raised hands of Germans trying to surrender.  Tanks crushed retreating German soldiers and civilians unlucky enough to be in their path.

Thus do those who practice barbarism often find themselves being repaid with it–usually ten-fold.

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.
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