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Posts Tagged ‘THE PRINCE’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is no small matter.

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

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

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

Among the agencies now operating under its mandate:

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

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

Click here: Department Components | Homeland Security

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

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

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

But consider the implications if there is no

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

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

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

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

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

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

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

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

Poster for “The Interview”

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

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

Warning issued by “Guardians of Peace” (GOP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neville Chamberlain

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

Less than one year later, Churchill was proved right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Boehner

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

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

Sign of The Black Hand extortion group 

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Buffet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Republican response?

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

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

Chris Matthews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BE FEARED, NOT DESPISED

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on November 26, 2014 at 12:02 am

Screaming “Allah akbar!”–the Islamic battlecry, “God is Great!”–two Palestinians wielding meat cleavers and a gun slaughtered five worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue.

Three of the dead were Americans holding Israeli citizenship.  Four of them were rabbis.

Eight people were injured–and one later died–before the attackers were killed in a shootout with police.

Aftermath of the attack on unarmed rabbis in a Jerusalem synagogue

The attack–launched on November 18–was the deadliest in Israel’s capital since 2008, when a Palestinian gunman shot eight people in a religious seminary school.

And how did Palestinians react to the grisly murders of five unarmed worshippers?

They celebrated:

  • Revelers in the Gazan city of Rafah handed out candy and brandished axes and posters of the suspects in praise of the deadly attack.
  • Hamas-affiliated social media circulated violent and anti-Semitic cartoons hailing the killings.
  • Students in Bethlehem joined in the festivities by sharing candy.

Palestinians celebrating the attack 

  • The parents of the two terrorists joyfully declared: “They are both Shahids (martyrs) and heroes.”
  • A resident of the terrorists’ neighborhood stated: “We have many more youngsters and nothing to lose. They are willing to harm Jews, anything for al-Aqsa.”
  • Another resident said: “People here won’t sit quietly, they will continue to respond. We will make the lives of the Jews difficult everywhere.”

And how have Israelis responded to this latest atrocity?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the demolitions of the homes of the attackers.

The blunt truth is that Palestinians have no interest in preventing such attacks on Israeli citizens–because Israel hasn’t given them any.

Blowing up houses only takes out anger on lifeless buildings.  Those who lived there are still alive–and able to seek revenge in the future.

As Niccolo Machiavelli once warned:  But above all [a ruler] must abstain from taking the property of others, for men forget more easily the death of their father than the loss of their inheritance.

But there is an alternative which Israelis must almost certainly be considering at this time.

Its purpose: To instill a sense of civic responsibility–however begrudgingly–in their Islamic citizens.

Every time such an atrocity occurs, Israel could deport at least 10,000 Arabs from its territory.

Suddenly, Arabs living in Israel would have real incentive for preventing such attacks against Israelis.  Or at least for reporting to police the intentions of those they knew were planning such attacks.

“Hey,” they would think, “if Abdul blows up that police station like he said he wants to, I could get sent to a refugee camp.”

The odds are there would be s sudden influx of Arab informants to Israeli police stations.

Machiavelli, the 15th century Florentine statesmen, carefully studied both war and politics.  In his most famous–or infamous–work, The Prince, he advises:

Niccolo Machiavelli

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved.  The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved. 

For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble,dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain; as long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote, but when it approaches, they revolt.

And the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined; for the friendship which is gained by purchase and not through grandeur and nobility of spirit is bought but not secured, and at a pinch is not to be expended in your service. 

And 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.

Machiavelli knew–and warned–that while it was useful to avoid hatred, it was fatal to be despised.  And he also warned that humility toward insolent enemies  only encourages their hatred.

Accompanying this is the advice of perhaps the greatest general of the American Civil War: William Tecumseh Sherman.

Sherman, whose army cut a swath of destruction through the South in 1864, said it best.  Speaking of the Southern Confederacy, he advised: “They cannot be made to love us, but they may be made to fear us.”

Israelis will never be able to make its sworn Islamic enemies love them.  But they can instill such a healthy fear in most of them that such atrocities as the recent synagogue butchery will become a rarity.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART EIGHT (END)

In History, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on November 24, 2014 at 12:00 am

So you’ve decided to sue the airline you believe wronged you.

One option is to do so in small claims court.

A plus is you don’t need an attorney. In fact, you’re barred from bringing in an attorney. You represent yourself, which means you don’t have to pay an attorney–either up-front or at the end of the case.

Another plus: It will cost you far less to represent yourself than it will cost the airline to send a representative.

If you file in California and the airline is headquartered in New York, it will be expensive for them to send a rep to attend the proceedings. If the airline fails to send someone as its representative–which is highly unlikely–it loses by default.

A minus is that you may not be the confrontational type.  You may also feel intimidated by the legal process–and afraid of looking like an idiot if you lose.

Another minus is that each state sets a different amount you can win in damages.

To learn about the rules applying to small claims courts in your state, consult the following link:

Click here: 50 State Overview of Small Claims Rules | Nolo.com.

A second option is to take your case to civil court.

A plus is that the dollar-amount you can obtain at this level is far higher than in small-claims court.

A minus is that you’ll definitely want to retain an attorney.

True, you can legally represent yourself.  But aviation law is complex.  The airline will definitely have an attorney, so if you don’t, you’re bringing a knife to a gunfight.

If you can find an attorney willing to represent you on a contingency fee basis, you don’t have to pay him unless you win.  His fee will then come out of your settlement amount.

Another minus: If you can’t find an attorney willing to take your case on this basis, you’ll have to pay him by the hour, after first putting up a retainer fee, which can be quite large.

A third minus is that the courts are clogged with cases, and it can take months or even years before yours will be heard.

And remember: The vast majority of cases–civil and criminal–are settled outside of court.  In civil cases especially, judges strongly urge both sides to reach a compromise rather than duke it out in court.

And both sides are usually willing to do this, since there’s no telling how a jury might rule.

Finally, there’s the option of filing a class-action lawsuit.

A plus to this is that you’re not alone in your charge against the airline.  Other passengers who have been similarly wronged are seeking damages, and so the spotlight is not on any one plaintiff.

A minus is that such cases are extremely complex and must be handled by experienced attorneys.

Typically, federal courts are thought to be more favorable for defendants, and state courts more favorable for plaintiffs. Many class actions are filed initially in state court. The defendant will frequently try to remove the case to federal court.

Another minus: If your side prevails, the amount of money each plaintiff receives will be far smaller than if the award were to be divided between a single plaintiff and his attorney(s).

Finally, even if you win, you can be certain the airline will appeal the verdict.  Such appeals can go on for literally years.

On a more far-reaching basis, you can demand that your Congressional representatives support passenger rights through legislation.

Protections are especially needed when a single airline official–such as a steward–kicks a passenger off an airplane for reasons that have nothing to do with security.

Examples:

  • Two women kissing;
  • A steward demanding whether a woman is wearing underwear;
  • Another steward taking offense at a passenger’s request for help.)

During the administration of President George H.W. Bush, Congress overrode only one of his 44 vetoes.  In that case, Congress put a cap on the rates cable TV companies could charge.

They did so because their constituents had made clear their rage about high-priced cable fees.

Members of the Senate and House of Representatives will respond to constituent demands:

  1. If enough voters make their specific demands known; and
  2. If those voters make clear that ignoring their demands will guarantee defeat at the next election.

There are consumer rights organizations now pressing for vitally-needed passenger protections.  These organizations need support–both in terms of members and money.

Only then can they counter the legalized bribes (known as “campaign contributions) the airlines offer to members of Congress.

An example is Flyers Rights, which can be reached at: FlyersRights.ORG – Largest Non-Profit Airline Consumer Organization.

Above all, remember: Airlines are run by corporations.

Their foremost concern is not your comfort or even safety as a passenger.  It’s with further enriching their key executives.

You must be willing to stand up for your own rights–because the airline couldn’t care less about them.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART SEVEN (OF EIGHT)

In History, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on November 21, 2014 at 12:22 am

You can’t get the airline to take your complaint seriously but you don’t want to file a lawsuit.

So now what do you do?

You could file a complaint with one or more consumer complaint websites.  Just remember:

  • What you say online can hurt you.
  • Accuse someone of criminal or shameful behavior, and you can be sued for libel.
  • Threaten someone with exposure or financial ruin unless he pays you money and you can be privately sued and/or criminally prosecuted for extortion.
  • And once you click on the “Send” button, there’s no recalling your email.

Review the guidelines offered in Part Six of this series on how to safely craft your letter/email.

Below is a partial list of consumer complaint websites.  No endorsement is implied by this listing.  It’s offered simply to illustrate the variety of such websites available.

Your first impulse will probably be to file your complaint with a a website like one of these.

Don’t do it.

Instead, try to resolve your problem (assuming it can be resolved) with the airline.

Why?  Two reasons:

  1. You may be able to obtain what you want at that level, without having to do anything more.
  2. If you don’t give the airline the chance to address your grievance, you will be accused of pursuing a vendetta.  This will be especially true if you later sue the airline.

Use websites like these as a fallback option–in case you’re unable to can’t resolve your problem with the airlines.

And, frankly, there’s a good chance you won’t.

In its September 3, 2009 issue, Time magazine warned that calling the airlines’ customer complaint lines would likely prove a waste of time.

The major carriers have, quietly, made it steadily more difficult for customers to reach a person with their complaints. “The airlines don’t want to talk to their  customers,” says John Tschohl, a consultant to businesses on customer service.

Even the few airlines that still have customer-service numbers bury them deep within their websites.  Finding them is often as much a matter of luck as persistence.

So as advised in Part Five of this series:

  • Don’t waste your time with the Customer Service line.
  • Go directly to the topmost official(s) of the airline and make it clear why it’s in their best interests to resolve your problem. 
  • Then, if you can’t find a workable solution, file your complaint with as many consumer-protection websites as possible.

You can also file complaints with one or more federal agencies that hold jurisdiction over the airlines.

If your complaint is safety related, address it to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at:

Assistant Administrator for System Safety ASY-100

Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20591

Phone: 1-866-835-5322

Click here: Contact the Aviation Safety Hotline

If your complaint involves security, direct it to the Transportation Safety Adminisration (TSA).

You can reach this by phone at 866-289-9673 or by email at tsa-contactcenter@dhs.gov.

A final option is to sue the airline.

For most people, bringing in a lawyer is like bringing up the heavy artillery.  When should you do so?

Christopher Elliott, author, consumer advocate and journalist, outlines “five times when you should consider skipping the complaints process and going straight to court:

  1. When they’re playing games.
  2. When they’ve broken a contract.
  3. When they’re being dishonest.
  4. When they’re ignoring you.
  5. When they aren’t listening to reason.

Elliott’s webpage contains a wealth of practical advice for those who’ve had their fill of airline arrogance.  It can be accessed thus:

Click here: See you in court: 5 times when you should just sue ‘em.

Yet another must-read for those wondering if they should file suit:

Click here: Lies the Airlines Tell Us – ABC News

Assuming you decide to sue, there are three ways to do this:

  1. In small claims court.
  2. In regular civil court as an individual claimant.
  3. As part of a class-action lawsuit.

Each approach has its own series of pluses and minuses.  I’ll explore these in my next–and final–part of this series.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART SIX (OF EIGHT)

In Business, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on November 20, 2014 at 12:15 am

For your complaint to be addressed, it must first be put in writing–whether in a letter and/or an email.  Most likely, several letters and/or emails.

Even in our video-oriented society, the written word still carries far greater weight than the spoken one.  A document can be used as evidence in a civil lawsuit.

If you cringe at writing it yourself, you can ask someone else to write it for you.  But if s/he lacks excellent judgment and literary skills, you’ll be no better-off.

At best, the letter will prove ineffective and be ignored.  At worst, it could open you to charges of libel and/or extortion.

And even if the person can write an effective letter on your behalf, chances are you’ll have to pay for that service.

If you decide to write the letter yourself, you’ll find highly effective advice in Shocked, Appalled, and Dismayed: How to Write Letters of Complaint That Get Results, by Ellen Phillips.

Product Details

Click here: Amazon.com: Shocked, Appalled, and Dismayed! How to Write Letters of Complaint That Get Results (9780375701207): E

Among the subjects she covers–in detail–are:

  • Who to write to, what to say, what to ask for.
  • The names and addresses of over 600 major companies.
  • How to draft personal petitions covering everything from tenant-landlord disputes to workman’s compensation.
  • What steps to take to avoid litigation.

My own tips for writing a successful complaint letter are:

  • Remove any vulgar or profane words. 
  • Don’t make sweeping accusations: “Your agency is a waste.” 
  • Stick to facts you know can be proved: The who, what, when, where, how and why of reporting.
  • Don’t attribute motives to people you’ve had problems with.  You don’t know why someone did what he did.
  • Cite the names and titles of any airline employees who (1) can support your claim, or (2) were witnesses to the incident.

  • Show how the failure of the official to address your problem reflects badly on the company: “This is not the level of service your ads would lead potential customers to expect.”
  • Be reasonable and realistic in what you ask for. 
  • If you want reimbursement for expenses you had to make (such as hotel lodgings) owing to the airline’s fault, then provide copies of receipts.
  • Emphasize your desire to resolve the complaint amicably and privately within the company.
  • If necessary, note any regulatory agencies that can make life rough for the company if your complaint isn’t resolved. 
  • Cite the applicable law(s) under which it can be sued: “According to the Passenger Bill of Rights….”
  • Make certain the airline knows you expect a reply within a certain length of time: “I would appreciate your response within the next 10 business days.”  Otherwise they’ll feel they can afford to ignore your complaint.
  • If there is a specific action the airline can take to redress your complaint, be sure to mention it.  (You can be so angry when making a complaint that you forget to say what you want the company to do to resolve it.)

Of course, your overture(s) may be ignored.  Or you might feel the airline has not made a good-faith effort to compensate you.

In either case, you have two more courses of action to pursue.

  1. Threatening the airlines with bad publicity; and
  2. Threatening the airlines with a private lawsuit.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s far easier to spread the word about companies that mistreat their customers.

“Fly the Friendly Skies” is no longer n advertising slogan (even at United Airlines, which popularized it).  But airlines spend millions of dollars a year on selling just that image of themselves.

So anything that threatens to throw mud on that image is guaranteed to set off alarm-bells at corporate headquarters.  Especially if that mud is well-deserved.

An easy way to avenge airline mistreatment is to make full use of a wide array of consumer-opinion websites.

It’s important to check out each website carefully to increase your chances of having your complaint resolved.

  • Most websites simply offer a forum to vent your spleen.
  • Others promise to take various forms of action on your behalf–such as directing your complaint to the airline or a government agency.
  • Others offer to refer your complaint to an attorney.
  • Many of these are free.
  • Others charge a nominal fee (such as $5) for posting your complaint.
  • Some complaint websites are run by the Federal Government–such as those of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Some are run by individual states–such as the Office of the California Attorney General.
  • The major airlines provide “file a complaint” pages on their websites.

WARNING:

  • What you say online can hurt you.
  • Accuse someone of criminal or shameful behavior, and you can be sued for libel.
  • Threaten someone with exposure or financial ruin and you can be privately sued and/or criminally prosecuted for extortion.

And once you click on the “Send” button, there’s no recalling your email.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART FIVE (OF EIGHT)

In Business, History, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on November 19, 2014 at 12:00 am

Have a complaint against an airline–but don’t want to waste your time with low-level Customer Service reps?

Good.  You’ve just learned what is probably the single most important lesson in bureaucracy-busting: If you want action, seek out those who are empowered to make it happen.

So take your complaint to someone who has the authority to resolve it. This means, preferably, the CEO of the airline, or at least one of his executive colleagues.

But who are these people? And how do you track them down?

You start by realizing that every major airline has a website. And that website can usually be counted on to list the top honchos of the company.

Even if it doesn’t, you can usually obtain this information on the Internet. Go to “google” and type: “[Name of airline] board of directors.”

This should arm you with a series of websites providing

  • the name of the CEO;
  • the company’s mailing address;
  • its phone number for reaching its top executives; and
  • its website and/or email address.

Below are listed

  • the names of the CEOs of the major United States airlines
  • their mailing addresses
  • their corporate phone numbers and (where given)
  • their email addresses.

But the corporate world is filled with men (and a few women) who are highly skilled at moving up–by moving others out.  So keep in mind that the names provided below will not be permanent.

Check out the appropriate websites to obtain the latest information before writing that letter and/or making that call.

Too many airlines treat their passengers like captives of Vladimir Putin’s KGB

Send out a letter addressed “To Whom It May Concern” and you’ll instantly be branded as a lightweight.   This only shows that you were too lazy/stupid to find out who holds power in the organization.

Whereas a well-written letter addressed to the key decision maker will instantly warn top executives: “Take this person seriously.”

Now, the airlines:

DELTA AIRLINES

Richard H. Anderson – Chief Executive Officer

Edward H. Bastian – President

Email:   Email us

Phone: (404) 715-2600

Mail:

Delta Air Lines, Inc.
1030 Delta Blvd.
Atlanta, Georgia 30354

Click here: Delta Air Lines Newsroom – Leadership

AMERICAN AIRLINES

William Douglas ParkerChairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, AMR Corporation / American Airlines Group, Inc., Fort Worth, Texas.

John W. Bachmann - Senior Partner, Edward Jones, St. Louis, Missouri.

Mail:

P.O. Box 619616
DFW Airport, TX 75261-9616

Phone: (817) 963-1234

Click here: American Airlines Board of Directors

UNITED AIRLINES

Jeffery A. Smisek – Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, United Continental Holdings, Inc.

Oscar Munoz – Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, CSX Corporation

Shareholders and other interested parties may contact the United Continental Holdings, Inc. Board of Directors as a whole, or any individual member, by one of the following means:

  1. writing to the Board of Directors, United Continental Holdings, Inc., c/o the Corporate Secretary’s Office, HDQLD, 77 W. Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60601; or
  2. by emailing the Board of Directors at UALBoard@united.com

If neither of these methods seems to work, try these:

Mail:
P.O. Box 66100
Chicago, IL 60666

Phone (general): (800) (800) 864-8331

Phone Investor Relations: (312) 997-8610

United Continental Holdings, Inc. – Investor Relations – Board of Directors

JETBLUE AIRWAYS

Joel C. Peterson – Independent Chairman of the Board of Jetblue Airways Corporation.

David Barger – President, Chief Executive Officer, Director of JetBlue Airways Corporation.

Mark D. Powers – Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President, Treasurer of JetBlue Airways Corporation.

JetBlue Airways Corporation Corporate Office | Headquarters
118-29 Queens Blvd.
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Phone:  (718) 286-7900
Toll Free: (800) 538-2583

http://www.jetblue.com

AIRTRAN

AirTran Airways is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Southwest Airlines.  Thus, complaints against Airtran should be directed to the top executives of Southwest.

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES

Gary C. Kelly – Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Southwest Airlines, the parent company for AirTran

Douglas H. Brooks – Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer
Southwest Airlines Corporate Headquarters
Physical Address:
Southwest Airlines
2702 Love Field Drive
Dallas, Texas 75235
Telephone: (214) 792-4223

Click here: Southwest Airlines Investor Relations – Board of Directors

US AIRWAYS

Robert Isom – Chief Executive Officer

Bruce Lakefield – Vice Chairman of the Board, President, CEO

Derek Kerr – Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President

Corporate Contact Information:

Mailing address:

US Airways
4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ 85034

Corporate headquarters:

111 W. Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ 85281

Phone: (480) 693-0800  7 AM – 5 PM Monday – Friday

Daniel E. Cravens
Director,
Investor Relations
US Airways
111 West Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ 85281

Phone: 480.693.1227

E-mail: Click here: US Airways | Compliments/complaints

Click here: US Airways | Investor relations

ALASKA AIRLINES

William S. Ayer – Chairman

Bradley D. Tilden – President and CEO

Brandon Pederson – Chief Financial Officer

Corporate Offices:

P.O. Box 68900
Seattle, WA 98168

Phone: (206-433-3200

Click here: Executive Leadership – Alaska Airlines

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES

In 2010, Continental Airlines merged with United Airlines.  Direct all inquiries and complaints to United Airlines, whose corporate information is given above.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART FOUR (OF EIGHT)

In Business, History, Law, Social commentary on November 18, 2014 at 12:05 am

The concept of “consumer rights” has not yet reached the airline industry.

Under Federal law, as enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration, airline passengers have only the following guaranteed rights:

If your flight is delayed (such as by bad weather) and you’re stuck on the tarnac:

  • Tarnac delays cannot exceed three hours. You can leave the plane if you choose after that.
  • Food and water must be available after the plane has been stuck on the tarnac for two hours.
  • The airline must service toilets, keep air conditioning on, and keep trash cans clean.

In addition, the U.S. government mandates these “rights” for air travelers:

  1. Compensation when you’re bumped due to overbooking –and for no other reason.
  2. An airline must accept lost/damaged baggage liability up to $3,000 in depreciated value per passenger for a domestic flight (limits on international flights are either about $1,700 or $635, depending on which rule applies).

Beyond those, all you can claim is what’s in each airline’s “contract of carriage.” Those contracts are–naturally–heavily biased toward airlines, not customers.

Given that the law–and the Congressmen who create it–is still largely owned by the airlines, you, as a customer, are forced to make do with the weapons at hand.

These essentially boil down to two:

  1. Threatening the airlines with bad publicity; and
  2. Threatening the airlines with a private or class-action lawsuit.

In both cases, it’s best to first contact the highest-ranking officials in the airline company.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. They have the most to lose, and
  2. They have the power to redress your complaint.

You can try to reach the CEO or one of his assistants during the time of the incident.  But, most likely, this will happen afterwards.

If a mini-Hitler of an airline steward decides to eject you because s/he doesn’t like your clothes or request for help, there’s nothing you can do about it.

If you physically resist, you will almost certainly be arrested and charged with some version of domestic terrorism.  You’ll be shipped off to jail and forced to defend yourself against the bogus charge.

Even if the authorities decide to not prosecute, you’ll have to spend at least several hundred dollars on legal representation.

And, of course, the airlines won’t care.  They won’t be spending a dime on your prosecution–that will be paid for by the local U.S. Attorney’s (federal prosecutor’s) office.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, wisely advised in The Prince:

A prince…must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves.  One must therefore be a fox to avoid traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”

This is definitely the time to take on the trappings of a fox.  However painful it is to swallow the insult at the time it’s given, don’t give the airlines an excuse to have you arrested.

Take your revenge afterward.  That’s what musician Dave Carroll did.

Carroll alleged that, in 2008, he and fellow passengers saw United Airlines’ baggage-handling crew throwing guitars on the tarmac in Chicago O’Hare.  He arrived at Omaha, Nebraska, his destination to discover that the neck of his $3,500 Taylor guitar had been broken.

Carroll complained to three United employees, but they proved indifferent.  He filed a claim with the airline–but was told he was ineligible for compensation.

The reason?  He had not filed the claim within the company’s stipulated “standard 24-hour timeframe.”

Carroll turned to his musical roots for a remedy.  He wrote a song, “United Breaks Guitars,” and turned it into a music video which he posted on YouTube and iTunes in July, 2009.

Click here: United Breaks Guitars – YouTube

The song went viral, and became a public relations nightmare for the airline.

The Sunday Times reported that, four days after the video’s posting, United Airlines’ stock price fell 10% costing stockholders about $180 million in value.

Most customers, admittedly, aren’t musicians.  For them–short of suing–the weapons of choice will be:

  • The phone
  • Letters
  • The Internet
  • Consumer protection organizations that can be enlisted

Let’s start with the first: The phone.

Most customers assume the place to take their anger is the airline Customer Service desk.  And the airlines encourage people to do just that.

Don’t do it.

Customer Service is staffed by people who may ooze compassion but who aren’t authorized to do anything on your behalf. And of course they’ll be well-versed in the standard airline excuses for why your request is denied.

(Think of Dave Carroll and the excuse United’s reps offered him: You didn’t file your claim within 24 hours.)

Even if they truly want to help you, they’ll find themselves outranked at every level.

So take your complaint to someone who has the authority to resolve it.  This means, preferably, the CEO of the airline, or at least one of his executive colleagues.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART THREE (OF EIGHT)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Social commentary on November 17, 2014 at 12:03 am

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

Leisha Hailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She ordered DeWitt to delete the photo.

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

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

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

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

The reason:  She was a “security risk.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translation: “Disruptive” means whatever an airline official claims it to mean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There certainly isn’t much competition within the airlines industry–whose numbers are limited and continue to shrink due to mergers and the rising cost of fuel.

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

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

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

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

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