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Posts Tagged ‘THE HUFFINGTON POST’

“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, Social commentary, Self-Help, Business 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.

AN ALTERNATIVE TO OBAMA AMNESTY

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on November 25, 2014 at 12:01 am

Republicans are furious that President Barack Obama has decided to grant what they consider unconditional amnesty to millions of illegal aliens living within the United States.

But they don’t agree about what to offer as a counter-proposal.

Here is one suggestion.

If Americans decide they truly want to control access to their own borders, there is a realistic way to accomplish this.

“Undocumented immigrant”–illegal alien–entering the United States

(1) The Justice Department should vigorously attack the “sanctuary movement” that officially thwarts the immigration laws of the United States.

Among the 31 “sanctuary cities” of this country: Washington, D.C.; New York City; Los Angeles; Chicago; San Francisco; Santa Ana; San Diego; Salt Lake City; Phoenix; Dallas; Houston; Austin; Detroit; Jersey City; Minneapolis; Miami; Denver; Baltimore; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; New Haven, Connecticut; and Portland, Maine.

These cities have adopted “sanctuary” ordinances that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about one’s immigration status.

(2)  The most effective way to combat this movement: Indict the highest-ranking officials of those cities who have actively violated Federal immigration laws.

In San Francisco, for example, former District Attorney Kamala Harris–now California’s Attorney General–created a secret program called Back on Track.  Its purpose: To provide training for jobs that illegal aliens cannot legally hold.

She also prevented Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from deporting even those illegal aliens convicted of a felony.

(3) Indicting such officials would be comparable to the way President Andrew Jackson dealt with the threat South Carolinians once made to “nullify” any Federal laws they didn’t like.

Jackson quashed that threat by making one of his own: To lead an army into that State and purge all who dared defy the laws of the Federal Government.

(4) Even if some indicted officials escaped conviction, the results would prove worthwhile. 

City officials would be forced to spend huge sums of their own money for attorneys and face months or even years of prosecution.

And this, in turn, would send a devastating warning to officials in other “sanctuary cities” that the same fate lies in store for them.

(5) CEOs whose companies–like Wal-Mart–systematically employ illegal aliens should be held directly accountable for the actions of their subordinates.

They should be indicted by the Justice Department under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the way Mafia bosses are prosecuted for ordering their own subordinates to commit crimes.

Upon conviction, the CEO should be sentenced to a mandatory prison term of at least twenty years.

This would prove a more effective remedy for combating illegal immigration than stationing tens of thousands of soldiers on the U.S./Mexican border. CEOs forced to account for their subordinates’ actions would take drastic steps to ensure that their companies strictly complied with Federal immigration laws.

Without employers luring illegal aliens at a fraction of the money paid to American workers, the flood of such illegal job-seekers would quickly dry up.

(6) The Government should stop granting automatic citizenship to “anchor babies” born to illegal aliens in the United States.

A comparable practice would be allowing bank robbers who had eluded the FBI to keep their illegally-obtained loot.

A person who violates the bank robbery laws of the United States is legally prosecutable for bank robbery, whether he’s immediately arrested or remains uncaught for years. The same should be true for those born illegally within this country.

If they’re not here legally at the time of birth, they should not be considered citizens and should–like their parents–be subject to deportation.

(7) The United States Government–from the President on down–should scrap its apologetic tone on the right to control its national borders.

The Mexican Government doesn’t hesitate to apply strict laws to those immigrating to Mexico. And it feels no need to apologize for this.

Neither should we.

(8) Voting materials and ballots should be published in one language: English. 

In Mexico, voting materials are published in one language–Spanish.

Throughout the United States, millions of Mexican illegals refuse to learn English and yet demand that voting materials and ballots be made available to them in Spanish.

(9) Those who are not legal citizens of the United States should not be allowed to vote in its elections.

In Mexico, those who are not Mexican citizens are not allowed to participate in the country’s elections. 

The Mexican Government doesn’t consider itself racist for strictly enforcing its immigration laws.

The United States Government should not consider itself racist for insisting on the right to do the same.

(10)  The United States should impose economic and even military sanctions against countries–such as China and Mexico–whose citizens make up the bulk of illegal aliens. 

Mexico, for example, uses its American border to rid itself of those who might demand major reforms in the country’s political and economic institutions.

Such nations must learn that dumping their unwanteds on the United States now comes at an unaffordably high price.  Otherwise those dumpings will continue.

PLAGUE AS PROPHECY

In Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary on October 16, 2014 at 12:32 am

“It was virulent beyond anything in anyone’s memory, and the most terrifying effect of this mysterious virulence was not only that it killed so many people but that it turned them against one another.”

So opens “The Black Death,” the third chapter of Otto Friedrich’s brilliant 1986 book, The End of the World: A History.

The narrative examines “the monumental, often inexplicable catastrophes that have at various times swept over humankind–moments when, for numerous people, the world did come to an end.”

Among the catastrophes vividly depicted by Friedrich:

  • The Sack of Rome
  • The Birth of the [Spanish] Inquisition
  • The Black Death
  • The Coming of [the Russian] Revolution
  • The Kingdom of Auschwitz

As America comes face-to-face with the terrors of Ebola, the pages Friedrich devotes to the original plague may turn out to be as much prophecy as history.

Bubonic plague originated in Central Asia, killing 25 million people.  Upon reaching Constantinople in 1347, it spread to Naples and Venice.  Trade ships from these ports spread the plague to southern France and Italy.

It reached Paris in June, 1348, and London several months later.  By 1350, all Europe was ravaged by the plague.

Within four years it destroyed a quarter to half of the population of Europe.

The plague was caused by the bacillus Pasteurella pestis, which lives in rats and other rodents.  The fleas living in these animals transmitted the plague to people by biting them.  Within five days, the victims had died.

By the time the plague had run its course, it had killed 75 to 200 million people.

The signs of infection became unmistakable: Growths in the thighs, about the size of apples, then dark blotches and bruises on the thighs, arms and other parts of the body.

As a result of these dark blotches, the plague quickly became known as the Black Death.

“O happy posterity,” wrote the Italian poet Petrarch, “who will look upon our testimony as a fable.  Will posterity believe that there was a time when, with no deluge from heaven, no worldwide conflagration, no wars or other visible devastation…but almost the whole earth was depopulated?”

The plague destroyed not only the lives of its victims but the fragile bonds that hold society together.

“As the number of deaths increased in Messina,” wrote the Franciscan monk Michael, “many desired to confess their sins to the priests and to draw up their last will and testament.  But priests and lawyers refused to enter the houses of the deceased….

“Soon men hated each other so much that, if a son was attacked by the disease, his father would not tend him.  If, in spite of all, he dared to approach him, he was immediately infected….

“Soon the corpses were lying forsaken in the houses.  No priest, no son, no father and no relation dared to enter, but they paid hired servants with high wages to bury the dead.  Soon there was a shortage of servants and finally none at all.”

Bones of plague victims stacked by a monk at the Sedlec Ossuary.

No one knew what caused it.  Many–especially members of the Catholic clergy–believed the plague was God’s judgment on a sinful world.

Philip VI, the king of France, fearing this might be true, issued a proclamation against blasphemy. For a first offense, a blasphemer’s lip would be cut off; for a second, the other lip.  And for a third offense, the tongue.

Medical professors at the University of Paris believed that a disturbance in the skies had caused the sun to overheat the oceans near India.  As a result, the waters were giving off toxic vapors.

Guy de Chauliac, the physician to Pope Clement VI, believed that the plague had been caused by a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, in the sign of Aquarius.  This, he believed, had corrupted the earth’s atmosphere.

Just as no one knew what had caused the plague, no one knew how to protect oneself against it.

Among the remedies prescribed: Bleeding, purging, bathing in vinegar to purify the body and the burning of odiferous wood to purify the air.

Others trusted to faith, praying for deliverance.  Some went on pilgrimages or subjected themselves to self-flagellation to expiate their sins.  The Brotherhood of the Flagellants appeared in Dresden, Hamburg and Magdeburg, then spread throughout Europe.

For others, debauchery seemed to be the road to salvation–or at least temporary happiness while they waited for the plague to claim them.

“People behaved as if their days were numbered,” wrote Giovanni Boccaccio, “and treated their belongings and their own persons with equal abandon.  Hence most houses had become common property and any passing stranger could make himself at home.”

Yet none of the prescribed medical cures brought relief.  And no amount of religious devotion brought salvation.

As Friedrich notes: “One of the most baffling and terrifying aspects of the plague [was] its indiscriminate slaughter of the devout as well as the sinful.  If this was God’s anger, how could it be understood, much less appeased?”

The plague ravaged France, Germany, England, Spain, Norway, Poland, Hungary, Russia.  After devastating London in 1665 and Marseille in 1720, the disease mysteriously disappeared.

Some believe the common black rat was destroyed by the larger brown rat, which lived outdoors, away from people.  Others believe a milder, mutant form of the disease caused its victims to build up immunities.

No one knows for certain.

REAL IMMIGRATION REFORM: PART TWO (END)

In History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 9, 2014 at 7:43 am

If Americans decide they truly want to control access to their own borders, there is a realistic way to accomplish this.

Arrested illegal aliens in Long Island, New York

(1) The Justice Department should vigorously attack the “sanctuary movement” that officially thwarts the immigration laws of the United States.

Among the 31 “sanctuary cities” of this country: Washington, D.C.; New York City; Los Angeles; Chicago; San Francisco; Santa Ana; San Diego; Salt Lake City; Phoenix; Dallas; Houston; Austin; Detroit; Jersey City; Minneapolis; Miami; Denver; Baltimore; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; New Haven, Connecticut; and Portland, Maine.

These cities have adopted “sanctuary” ordinances that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about one’s immigration status.

(2)  The most effective way to combat this movement: Indict the highest-ranking officials of those cities who have actively violated Federal immigration laws.

In San Francisco, for example, former District Attorney Kamala Harris—who is now California’s Attorney General—created a secret program called Back on Track, which provided training for jobs that illegal aliens could not legally hold.

She also prevented Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from deporting even those illegal aliens convicted of a felony.

(3) Indicting such officials would be comparable to the way President Andrew Jackson dealt with the threat South Carolinians once made to “nullify” any Federal laws they didn’t like.

Jackson quashed that threat by making one of his own: To lead an army into that State and purge all who dared defy the laws of the Federal Government.

(4) Even if some indicted officials escaped conviction, the results would prove worthwhile. 

City officials would be forced to spend huge sums of their own money for attorneys and face months or even years of prosecution.

And this, in turn, would send a devastating warning to officials in other “sanctuary cities” that the same fate lies in store for them.

(5) CEOs whose companies–like Wal-Mart–systematically employ illegal aliens should be held directly accountable for the actions of their subordinates.

They should be indicted by the Justice Department under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the way Mafia bosses are prosecuted for ordering their own subordinates to commit crimes.

Upon conviction, the CEO should be sentenced to a mandatory prison term of at least twenty years.

This would prove a more effective remedy for combating illegal immigration than stationing tens of thousands of soldiers on the U.S./Mexican border. CEOs forced to account for their subordinates’ actions would take drastic steps to ensure that their companies strictly complied with Federal immigration laws.

Without employers luring illegal aliens at a fraction of the money paid to American workers, the flood of such illegal job-seekers would quickly dry up.

(6) The Government should stop granting automatic citizenship to “anchor babies” born to illegal aliens in the United States.

A comparable practice would be allowing bank robbers who had eluded the FBI to keep their illegally-obtained loot.

A person who violates the bank robbery laws of the United States is legally prosecutable for bank robbery, whether he’s immediately arrested or remains uncaught for years. The same should be true for those born illegally within this country.

If they’re not here legally at the time of birth, they should not be considered citizens and should–like their parents–be subject to deportation.

(7) The United States Government–from the President on down–should scrap its apologetic tone on the right to control its national borders.

The Mexican Government doesn’t hesitate to apply strict laws to those immigrating to Mexico. And it feels no need to apologize for this.

Neither should we.

(8) Voting materials and ballots should be published in one language: English. 

In Mexico, voting materials are published in one language–Spanish.

Throughout the United States, millions of Mexican illegals refuse to learn English and yet demand that voting materials and ballots be made available to them in Spanish.

(9) Those who are not legal citizens of the United States should not be allowed to vote in its elections.

In Mexico, those who are not Mexican citizens are not allowed to participate in the country’s elections. 

The Mexican Government doesn’t consider itself racist for strictly enforcing its immigration laws.

The United States Government should not consider itself racist for insisting on the right to do the same.

(10)  The United States should impose economic and even military sanctions against countries–such as China and Mexico–whose citizens make up the bulk of illegal aliens. 

Mexico, for example, uses its American border to rid itself of those who might demand major reforms in the country’s political and economic institutions.

Such nations must learn that dumping their unwanteds on the United States now comes at an unaffordably high price.  Otherwise those dumpings will continue.

REAL IMMIGRATION REFORM: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on September 8, 2014 at 9:51 am

Once again, lawbreakers–and their highly vocal supporters–are angry.

President Barack Obama has decided–at least temporarily–to delay taking any executive action on immigration until after the November congressional elections.

And millions of Hispanics–both within the United States and throughout Central and South America–are furious.

They had expected–or at least hoped–that Obama would essentially overturn all U.S. immigration laws.

In a Rose Garden speech on June 30, Obama said he had directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to give him recommendations for executive action by the end of summer.

Obama promised to “adopt those recommendations without further delay.”

But now–suddenly–Obama has apparently had a change of heart.

There are two reasons why the President has made this decision–one that sounds good, and a real one.

The one that sounds good is this: Using executive orders to circumvent Congress on immigration during the campaign would politicize the issue and hurt future efforts to pass a broad overhaul.

The real one: Democrats fear losing their majority in the United States Senate.

With the House of Representatives already under Right-wing control, this would essentially nullify the remaining 16 months of the Obama Presidency.

And Democrats have good reason to fear having the illegal immigration issue turned against them in November.

True, Hispanics are passionately committed to turning the United States into a dumping ground for millions of poor, uneducated, non-English-speaking peons.

But they make up only one constituency of the Democratic Party.

And while millions of non-Hispanics believe that “immigration reform” is necessary, they’re more concerned with the stalled economy and the need to create jobs.

It’s different on the Right.  There, millions of “angry white males” are prepared to make illegal immigration the major issue of the election.

During the 1994 mid-term elections, Republicans made “gun control” their central issue.  Democrats lost heavily and the House of Representatives went Republican.

Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House, and dedicated the next two years to blocking every piece of legislation put forth by President Bill Clinton.

If history repeats itself, this is the sort of history that Democrats in the Senate don’t want to repeat.

Illegal immigration has always been a highly emotional issue for conservatives.  But it’s been given added impetus this year.

Thousands–perhaps millions–of unaccompanied minors from Central America have flooded across the U.S. border with Mexico.  And there seems to be no signs of stopping this deluge.

White House officials claim that President Obama didn’t foresee how this might increase frictions with Republicans when he made his June 30 pledge.

In other words: Obama didn’t realize that offering all-out support for millions of violators of America’s immigration laws could cost Democrats bigtime in the Senate.

But if Obama didn’t realize the danger Senate Democrats faced, Senate Democrats most certainly did.

This was especially true for those in vulnerable states like Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.  And they urged Obama to postpone any decision on immigration until after the election.

Of course, those promoting an end to all U.S. restrictions on illegal immigration are furious.

“We know where Republicans stand, and what this shows now is that Democrats are also willing to throw Latinos and immigrants under the bus,” said Cesar Vargas, director of the DREAM Action Coalition, a group of young undocumented immigrants who have encouraged voters to push for immigration reform.

During the 2012 Presidential race, Obama won big among Hispanic voters.  In large part, he was unintentionally helped by his opponent, Mitt Romney, whose use of words like “illegals” and “self-deportation” enraged Hispanics.

But what worked for Obama in a Presidential election won’t work for Democrats in midterm elections.

Democrats such as Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas don’t have large masses of Hispanic voters to rely on.

And there are plenty of angry white voters prepared to vote Republican against anyone they believe is “selling out America.”

Many of them are angry at being called racists simply because they believe the United States should be able to control its own borders–the way Mexico controls its own.

Mexico has a single, streamlined law that ensures that foreign visitors and immigrants are:

  • in the country legally;
  • have the means to sustain themselves economically;
  • not destined to be burdens on society;
  • of economic and social benefit to society;
  • of good character and have no criminal records; and
  • contribute to the general well-being of the nation.

The law also ensures that:

  • immigration authorities have a record of each foreign visitor;
  • foreign visitors do not violate their visa status;
  • foreign visitors are banned from interfering in the country’s internal politics;
  • foreign visitors who enter under ralse pretenses are imprisoned or deported;
  • foreign visitors violating the terms of their entry are imprisoned are deported;
  • those who aid in illegal immigration will be sent to prison.

Meanwhile,  Mexico uses its American border to rid itself of those who might otherwise demand major reforms in the country’s political and economic institutions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHY THE POOR SUPPORT THE RICH: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on August 1, 2014 at 10:53 am

Republicans have long tried to prevent or eliminate programs that aid the poor and middle-class, including:

  • Social Security – since it began in 1935
  • Medicare  – since it began in 1965
  • Food stamps – since it began in 1964
  • WIC (Women, Infants, Children) – since 1972
  • The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) – since 2010

So why are so many poor Americans now flocking to this party’s banner?

Two reasons: Racism and greed.  There are historical parallels for both.

Racism:

In 1999, historian Victor Davis Hanson noted the huge gap in wealth between the aristocratic, slave-owning minority of the pre-Civil War South and the vast majority of poor white Southerners.

“Before the war in the counties Sherman would later ruin, the top 10% of the landowners controlled 40% of the assessed wealth.”

In contrast, “more than half of those who were lucky enough to own any property at all still possessed less than 15% of the area’s valuation.”

So Hanson asked: “Why did the millions of poor whites of the Confederacy fight at all?”

He supplied the answer in his brilliant work on military history, The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny.

One of those liberators was General William Tecumseh Sherman, who led 62,000 Union troops in a victorious “March to the Sea” through the Confederacy in 1864.

So why did so many poor Southern whites literally lay down their lives for the wealthy planter class, which despised them?

According to Hanson: “Behind the entire social fabric of the South lay slavery.

“If slavery eroded the economic position of the poor free citizens, if slavery encouraged a society of haves and have-nots…then it alone offered one promise to the free white man–poor, ignorant and dispirited–that he was at least not black and not a slave.”

And the planter class and its allies in government easily fobbed off their poor white countrymen with cheap flattery.  Said Georgia Governor Joseph Brown:

“Among us the poor white laborer is respected as an equal.  His family is treated with kindness, consideration, and respect.  He does not belong to the menial class.  The negro is in no sense his equal.   He belongs to the only true aristocracy, the race of white men.”

The reality of slavery

Similarly, poor whites now flock to the Republican Party–which holds them in equal contempt– in large part to protest the 2008 election of the first black President of the United States.

According to a Pew Research Center study released on July 22, 2011: “Notably, the GOP gains have occurred only among white voters; a 2-point Republican edge among whites in 2008 (46% to 44%) has widened to a 13-point lead today (52% to 39%).”

GOP Makes Big Gains among White Voters | Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Since the 1960s, Republicans have pursued a campaign policy of “divide and rule”–divide the nation along racial lines and reap the benefits at election time.

  • Republicans opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Republicans opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • Republicans, with Richard Nixon as their Presidential candidate in 1968 and 1972, pursued what they called a “Southern strategy”: Use “code language” to stoke fear and hatred of blacks among whites.
  • Republicans have falsely identified welfare programs exclusively with non-whites.  (Of the six million Americans receiving food stamps, about 42 percent are white, 32 percent are black, and 22 percent are Latino—with the growth fastest among whites during the recession.)

Thus, in voting Republican, many of these poor whites believe they are “striking a blow for the white race.”

And they can do so in a more socially acceptable way than joining a certified hate group such as the American Nazi Party or Ku Klux Klan.

Greed:

In the hit play, 1776, on the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence, there is a telling exchange between John Dickinson and John Hancock.  It comes during the song, “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men.”

Dickinson, the delegate from Pennsylvania, urges Hancock, president of the Second Continental Congress, “to join us in our minuet.”

By “us” he means his fellow conservatives who fear losing their property and exalted status by supporting American independence from Great Britain.

Hancock declines, saying: “Fortunately, there are not enough men of property in America to dictate policy.”

To which Dickinson replies:  “Perhaps not.  But don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.  And that is why they will follow us.”

Today, poor whites generally identify with the CEOs of powerful corporations.  They believe the Republican gospel that they can attain such wealth–if only the government will “get out of my way.”

They forget–or ignore–the brutal truth that government, for all its imperfections, is sometimes all that stands between them and a wide range of predators.

In return, the CEOs despise them as the privileged have always despised their social and economic “inferiors.”

Unless the Democratic Party can find ways to directly address these bitter, Politically Incorrect truths, it will continue its decline into insignificance.

WHY THE POOR SUPPORT THE RICH: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on July 31, 2014 at 3:44 pm

On July 22, 2011, the Pew Foundation, analyzing voter identification, found that the GOP had gained strength among white voters, most specifically “the young and poor.”

A seven-point Democratic advantage among whites under age 30 three years earlier had turned into an 11-point GOP advantage.

And a 15-point Democratic advantage among whites earning less than $30,000 annually had swung to a slim four-point Republican edge.

In addition:

  • The GOP gains have occurred only among white voters.
  • Republicans have made sizable gains among white voters since 2008.
  • Fifty-two percent of white voters now call themselves Republicans or lean to the GOP, compared with 39% who affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic.
  • Democrats have lost their edge among lower income white voters.
  • In 2008, Democrats had a 15 point lead among white voters with family incomes less than $30,000.  Republicans now have a four-point edge among this group.
  • The GOP’s lead among middle income white voters also has grown since 2008, and Republicans hold a substantial advantage with higher income white voters.
  • Republicans have made gains among whites with a high school education or less.
  • The GOP’s advantage over Democrats grew from one point in 2008 to 17 points in 2011 among less educated whites.
  • Republicans have made smaller gains among whites voters who have college degrees.

What is fascinating about these findings is this: The Republicans have, since 1980, pursued a policy of gutting programs aimed at helping the poor–while repeatedly creating tax-breaks for the wealthiest 1% of the population.

For Republicans, the patron saint of this “love-the-rich-screw-the-poor” ideology remains Ronald Reagan.  Reagan served as governor of California (1967-1974) and President of the United States (1981-1989).

Ronald Reagan

Among those charting Reagan’s legacy as President was former CBS Correspondent David Schoenbrun In his bestselling autobiography, America Inside Out: At Home and Abroad from Roosevelt to Reagan, he noted:

  • On January 28, 1981, keeping a pledge to his financial backers in the oil industry, Reagan abolished Federal controls on the price of oil.
  • Within a week, Exxon, Texaco and Shell raised gasoline prices and prices of home heating oil.
  • Reagan saw it as his duty to put a floor under prices, not a ceiling above them.
  • Reagan believed that when government helped business it wasn’t interfering.   Loaning money to bail out a financially incompetent Chrysler was “supporting the free enterprise system.”
  • But putting a high-profits tax on price-gouging corporations or filing anti-trust suits against them was “Communistic” and therefore intolerable.
  • Tax-breaks for wealthy businesses meant helping America become stronger.
  • But welfare for the poor or the victims of a predatory marketplace economy weakened America by sapping its morale.

“In short,” wrote Schoenbrun,”welfare for the rich is good for America.  But welfare for the poor is bad for America, even for the poor themselves, for it encourages them to be shiftless and lazy.

“Somehow, loans to the inefficient management of American corporations would not similarly encourage them in their inefficient methods.”

Republicans have sought to dismantle Social Security ever since that program began in 1935.  And Republicans have furiously opposed other programs aiding the poor and middle-class–such as Medicare, food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, Children).

In short, this is not a political party with a history of rushing to the defense of those most in need.

So the question remains: Why are so many poor Americans now flocking to its banner?

Two reasons: Racism and greed.  There are historical parallels for both.

Racism:

In 1999, historian Victor Davis Hanson noted the huge gap in wealth between the aristocratic, slave-owning minority of the pre-Civil War South and the vast majority of poor white Southerners.

“Before the war in the counties Sherman would later ruin, the top 10% of the landowners controlled 40% of the assessed wealth.”

In contrast, “more than half of those who were lucky enough to own any property at all still possessed less than 15% of the area’s valuation.”

So Hanson asked: “Why did the millions of poor whites of the Confederacy fight at all?”

He supplied the answer in his brilliant work on military history, The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny.

One of those liberators was General William Tecumseh Sherman, who led 62,000 Union troops in a victorious “March to the Sea” through the Confederacy in 1864.

So why did so many poor Southern whites literally lay down their lives for the wealthy planter class, which despised them?

SLUMLORDS–THE REAL UNTOUCHABLES: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on July 18, 2014 at 6:23 am

San Francisco tenants need not be put at the mercy of greedy, arrogant slumlords.  And the agencies that are supposed to protect them need not be reduced to impotent farces.

The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI)–which is charged with guaranteeing the habitability of apartment buildings–should immediately adopt a series of long-overdue refirms.

Presently, there is no bureaucratic incentive for DBI to rigorously control the criminality of slumlords.  But this can be instilled–by making DBI merely a law-enforcing agency but a revenue-creating one.

Parts One and Two of this series outlined a series of long overdue reforms at DBI.  Here are the remaining four:

  1. Landlords should be required to bring all the units in a building up to existing building codes, and not just those in need of immediate repair.
  2. Landlords should be legally required to hire a certified-expert contractor to perform building repairs.  Many landlords insist on making such repairs despite their not being trained or experienced in doing so, thereby risking the lives of their tenants. 
  3. DBI should not view itself as a “mediation” agency between landlords and tenants.  Most landlords hate DBI and will always do so.  They believe they should be allowed to treat their tenants like serfs, raise extortionate rents anytime they desire, and maintain their buildings in whatever state  they wish.  And no efforts by DBI to persuade them of its good intentions will ever change their minds.
  4. Above all, DBI must stop viewing itself as a mere regulatory agency and start seeing itself as a law enforcement one. The FBI doesn’t ask criminals to comply with the law;  it applies whatever amount of force is needed to gain their compliance. As Niccolo Machiavelli once advised: If you can’t be loved by your enemies, then at least make yourself respected by them.

By doing so, DBI could vastly:

  • Enhance its own prestige and authority;
  • Improve living conditions for thousands of San Francisco renters; and
  • Bring millions ofdesperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers

And such reforms are equally overdue at the San Francisco District Attorney’s office.  Among these:

  • Creating a special unit to investigate and prosecute slumlords.
  • This should be modeled on existing units that attack organized crime, with slumlords targeted as major criminals.
  • Wiretaps and electronic surveillance should be routinely used.
  • Prosecutors should strive for lengthy prison terms and heavy fines.
  • Rewards should be offered to citizens who provide tips on major outrages by the city’s slumlords.

By doing so, it can:

  • Vastly enhance its own prestige and authority;
  • Improve living conditions  for thousands of San Francisco renters; and
  • Bring millions of desperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers.

But slumlord atrocities are by no means confined to San Francisco.  This is a crisis that needs to be confronted at State and Federal levels.

Many cities lack adequate funding to effectively investigate and prosecute slumlord abuses.  And even when the money exists for such efforts, the will to redress such abuses is often lacking.

Thus, legislation is essential at State and Federal levels to ensure that law-abiding tenants are protected against law-breaking slumlords.

At the core of this effort must be a revised view of slumlords.  They should be seen, investigated and prosecuted in the same way as Mafia predators.

Their crimes are not “victimless.”  And their victims are usually those who are too poor to effectively fight back.

And, like the Mafia, they easily buy public officials–including law enforcement agents–and/or hide their crimes behind teams of expensive attorneys.

At the Federal level, the Justice Department should designate a special section within the FBI to investigate and prosecute slumlord abuses.

Or this could be set up within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • This should be modeled on existing strike force units that attack organized crime, with slumlords targeted as major criminals.
  • Court-ordered wiretaps and electronic surveillance should be routinely used.
  • Rewards should be offered to citizens who provide tips on major outrages by the city’s slumlords.
  • Prosecutors should strive for lengthy prison terms and heavy fines.
  • Slumlords’ properties should be sold at public auctions, with the monies divided among various Federal agencies.
  • The tenants living in those properties would not be evicted.  They would instead now live under a new, law-abiding landlord.

At the State level, similar tenant-protection units should be created within the Department of Justice.

The power of slumlords calls to mind the scene in 1987′s The Untouchables, where Sean Connery’s veteran cop tells Eliot Ness: “Everybody knows where the liquor is. It’s just a question of: Who wants to cross Capone?”

It’s long past time for local, state and Federal governments to forcefully speak up on behalf of American tenants who cannot defend themselves against predatory slumlords.

As Robert F. Kennedy wrote: “Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”

SLUMLORDS–THE REAL UNTOUCHABLES: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on July 17, 2014 at 11:49 am

Slumlords would have everyone believe that San Francisco is a “renters’ paradise.”  A place where hard-working landlords are routinely taken advantage of by rent-avoiding bums who want to be constantly pampered.

On the contrary: It’s not renters who hold “untouchable” status, but slumlords themselves.

In fact, San Francisco is long overdue for serious reforms in protecting tenants.

Part One of this series outlined three overdue reforms needed at the Department of Building Inspection (DBI), San Francisco’s primary tenant-protecting agency.  Here are an additional 17:

  1. If the landlord fails to comply with the actions ordered within 30 days, the entire fine  should go into the City’s coffers–to be divided among DBI and other agencies charged with protecting San Francisco residents.
  2. In addition, he shuld be hit again with a fine that’s at least twice the amount of the first one.
  3. Inspectors for DBI should be allowed to cite landlords for violations that fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health (DPH).  They can then pass the information on to DPH for its own investigation.
  4. If the DBI Inspector later discovers that the landlord has not corrected the violation within a designated time-period, DBI should be allowed to levy its own fine for his failure to do so.
  5. If DPH objects to this, DBI should propose that DPH’s own Inspectors be armed with similar cross-jurisdictional authority.  Each agency would thus have increased motivation for spotting and correcting health/safety violations that threaten the lives of San Francisco residents.
  6. This would instantly turn DBI and DPH into allies, not competitors.  And it would mean that whether a citizen called DBI or DPH, s/he could be assured of getting necessary assistance.  As matters now stand, many residents are confused by the conflicting jurisdictions of both agencies.
  7. DBI should insist that its Inspectors Division be greatly expanded.  DBI can attain this by arguing that reducing the number of Inspectors cuts (1) protection for San Francisco renters–and (2) monies that could go to the general City welfare.
  8. The Inspection Division should operate independently of DBI.  Currently,  too many high-ranking DBI officials tilt toward landlords because they are landlords themselves.
  9. DBI should create a Special Research Unit that would compile records on the worst slumlord offenders.  Thus, a slumlord with a repeat history of defying DBI NOVs could be treated more harshly than a landlord who was a first-time offender.
  10. Turning DBI into a revenue-producing one would enable the City to raise desperately-needed revenues—in a highly popular way. Fining delinquent slumlords would be as unpopular as raising taxes on tobacco companies. Only slumlords and their hired lackey allies would object.
  11. Slumlords, unlike drug-dealers, can’t move their operations from one street or city to another.  Landlords aren’t going to demolish their buildings and move them somewhere else.
  12. DBI should order landlords to post their Notices of Violation in public areas of their buildings–on pain of serious financial penalties for failing to do so. When DBI orders a slumlord to take corrective action, s/he is the only person who is notified.  Thus, if that slumlord refuses to comply with those directives, s/he is the only one who realizes it.  Tenants have a right to know if their landlord is complying with the law.
  13. DBI should launch and maintain a city-wide advertising campaign to alert residents to its services.  Everyone knows the FBI pursues bank robbers, but too many San Franciscans do not even know that DBI exists, let alone what laws it enforces.
  14. This should be an in-your-face campaign: “Do you have bedbugs in your apartment?  Has your stove stopped working?  Are you afraid to ride in your building elevator because it keeps malfunctioning?  Have you complained to your landlord and gotten nowhere?  Then call DBI at —–.  Or drop us an email at ——.”
  15. Landlords should be legally required to give each tenant a list of the major city agencies (such as DBI, Department of Public Health and the Rent Board) that exist to help tenants resolve problems with their housing. 
  16. Landlords should be legally required to rehabilitate a unit every time a new tenant moves in, or at least have it examined by a DBI inspector every two years.  A tenant can occupy a unit for ten or more years, then die or move out, and the landlord immediately rents the unit to the first person who comes along, without making any repairs or upgrades whatsoever.
  17. Landlords should be required to bring all the units in a building up to existing building codes, and not just those in need of immediate repair.
  18. Landlords should be legally required to hire a certified-expert contractor to perform building repairs.  Many landlords insist on making such repairs despite their not being trained or experienced in doing so, thereby risking the lives of their tenants. 
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