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

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

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

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

What to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is especially true when the problem involves technology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This assumes, of course, that

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

If you

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

you’re flat out of luck.

And the agency/company couldn’t care less.

But it need not be this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll address that in my next column.

WHY PEOPLE HATE CABLE COMPANIES

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

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

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

Product Details

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think again.

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

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

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

Brian L. Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Welcome to Comcast–home of Xfinity.”

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

“Your call may be recorded for quality assurance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please hold for the next customer account executive.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlos Marcello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Mafia likes it that way.

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

Forty years later:

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

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

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

Long ago, in an America increasingly far away….

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Riddle Hoffa testifying before the Senate Labor Rackets Committee

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

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

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

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

Robert Blake as James Hoffa

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

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

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

Cotter Smith as Robert Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Barack Obama giving his State of the Union address

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

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

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

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

But it would prove a highly controversial act of symbolism.

In the case of the family of Michael Brown:

Michael Brown (left) roughing up a store owner

Lesley Mcspadden

Louis Head calls for arson in Ferguson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RACE AND CRIME

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

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

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

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

Consider this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The overall racial breakdown of the city was approximately:

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

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

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

That was 42 years ago.

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

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

Then follows this chart:

Misdeanor Criminal Mischief
Victim, Suspect, Arrestee Race/Ethnicity                                                                  

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

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

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

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

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

Total  Victims:        40,985       

Total Suspects:     11,356  

Total Arrests:         7,825

Then come the guts of the report:

Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter Victims:

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

Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter Arrestees:

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

Rape Victims:

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

Rape Arrestees:

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

Other Felony Sex Crimes Victims:

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

Known Other Felony Sex Crime Arrestees:

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

Robbery Victims:

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

Robbery Arrestees:

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

Felonious Assault Victims:

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

Felonious Assault Arrestees:

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

Grand Larceny Victims:

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

Grand Larceny Arrestees:

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

Shooting Victims:

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

Shooting Arrestees:

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

Drug Felony Arrest Population:

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

The Drug Misdemeanor Arrest Population

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

The Felony Stolen Property Arrest Population:

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

The Misdemeanor Stolen Property Arrest Population:

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

Violent Crime Suspects:

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

Reported Crime Complaint Juvenile Victims:

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

Juvenile Crime Complaint Arrestees:

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

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

                                                                Total Numbers        % the City’s Population  

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

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

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

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

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

In short:

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

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

MORE LESSONS FROM “LINCOLN”

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on December 5, 2014 at 12:00 am

Steven Spielberg’s 2012 movie Lincoln serves up a timely reminder that has long been obscured by past and current Southern lies.

Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) tours a Civil War battlefield

From first to last, the cause of the Civil War was slavery.

According to The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, arguments over “states’ rights” or economic conflict between North and South didn’t lead 13 Southern states to withdraw from the Union in 1860-61.

It was their demand for “respect” of their “peculiar institution”–i.e., slavery.

“The respect Southerners demanded did not consist simply of the states’ sovereignty or of the equal rights of Northern and Southern citizens, including slaveholders’ right to take their chattels into Northern territory.

“It entailed, too, respect for their assertion of the moral superiority of slaveholding society over free society,” writes Royster.

It was not enough for Southerners to claim equal standing with Northerners; Northerners must acknowledge it.

But this was something that the North was increasingly unwilling to do.  Finally, its citizens dared to elect Abraham Lincoln as President in 1860.

Lincoln and his new Republican party damned slavery-–and slaveholders-–as morally evil, obsolete and ultimately doomed. And they were determined to prevent slavery from spreading any further throughout the country.

Southerners found all of this intolerable.

The British author, Anthony Trollope, explained to his readers:

“It is no light thing to be told daily, by our fellow citizens…that you are guilty of the one damning sin that cannot be forgiven.

“All this [Southerners] could partly moderate, partly rebuke and partly bear as long as political power remained in their hands.”

It is to Spielberg’s credit that he forces his audience to look directly at the real cause of the bloodiest conflict on the North American continent.

At the heart of Spielberg’s film: Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) wants to win ratification of what will be the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  An amendment that will forever ban slavery.

But, almost four years into the war, slavery still has powerful friends–in both the North and South.

Many of those friends belong to the House of Representatives, which must ratify the amendment for it to become law.

Some are hostile to Lincoln personally.  One of them dubs him a dictator: “Abraham Africanus.”  Another accuses him of shifting his positions for the sake of expediency.

Other members–white men all–are hostile to the idea of “equality between the races.”

To them, ending slavery means opening the door to interracial marriage–especially marriage between black men and white women.  Perhaps even worse, it means possibly giving blacks–or women–the right to vote.

Members of Lincoln’s own Cabinet–such as Secretary of State William Seward–warn him: You can negotiate the end of the war immediately–if you’ll just let Southerners keep their slaves.

After the amendment wins ratification, Lincoln agrees to meet with a “peace delegation” from the Confederate States of America.

At the top of their list of concerns: If they persude the seceded states to return to the Union, will those states be allowed to nullify the amdnement?

No, says Lincoln.  He’s willing to make peace with the South, and on highly generous terms.  But not at the cost of allowing slavery to live on.

Too many men–North and South–have died in a conflict whose root cause is slavery.  Those lives must count for more than simply reuniting the Union.

For the Southern “peace commissioners,” this is totally unacceptable.

The South has lost thousands of men (260,000 is the generally accepted figure for its total casualties) and the war is clearly lost.  But for its die-hard leaders, parting with slavery is simply unthinkable.

Like Nazi Germany 80 years into the future, the high command of the South won’t surrender until their armies are too beaten down to fight any more.

The major difference between the defeated South of 1865 and the defeated Germany of 1945, is this: The South was allowed to build a beautiful myth of a glorious “Lost Cause,” epitomized by Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, Gone With the Wind.

In that telling, dutiful slaves were well-treated by kindly masters.  Southern aristocrats wore white suits and their slender-waisted ladies wore long dresses, carried parisols and said “fiddle-dee-dee” to young, handsome suitors.

One million people attended the premier of the movie version in Atlanta on December 15, 1939.

The celebration featured stars from the film, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags, false antebellum fronts on stores and homes, and a costume ball.

In keeping with Southern racist tradition, Hattie McDaniel and the other black actors from the film were barred from attending the premiere.  Upon learning this, an enraged Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event. McDaniel convinced him to attend.

When today’s Southerners fly Confederate flags and speak of “preserving our traditions,” they are actually celebrating their long-banned “peculiar institution.”

By contrast, post-World War II Germany outlawed symbols from the Nazi-era, such as the swastika and the “Heil Hitler” salute, and made Holocaust denial punishable by imprisonment.

America’s Southern states have refused to confront their own shameful past so directly.

But Americans can be grateful that Steven Spielberg has had the courage to serve up a long-overdue and much needed lesson in past–and still current–history.

“LINCOLN”: ISSUES PAST AND PRESENT

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 3, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is more than a mesmerizing history lesson.

It’s a timely reminder that racism and repression are not confined to any one period or political party.

At the heart of the film: Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) wants to win ratification of what will be the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

An amendment that will forever ban slavery.

True, Lincoln, in 1862, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This–in theory–freed slaves held in the Confederate states that were in rebellion against the United States Government.

(In reality, Confederate states had no intention of complying with any procolmation issued by Lincoln.)

But Lincoln regards this as a temporary wartime measure.

He fears that, once the war is over, the Supreme Court may rule the Proclamation unconstitutional.  This might allow Southerners to  continue practicing slavery, even after losing the war.

To prevent this, Congress must pass an anti-slavery amendment.

But winning Congressional passage of such an amendment won’t be easy.

The Senate had ratified its passage in 1864.  But the amendment must secure approval from the House of Representatives to become law.

And the House is filled with men–there are no women menmbers during the 19th century–who seethe with hostility.

Some are hostile to Lincoln personally.  One of them dubs him a Negroid dictator: “Abraham Africanus.”  Another accuses him of shifting his positions for the sake of expediency.

Other members–white men all–are hostile to the idea of “equality between the races.”

To them, ending slavery means opening the door to interracial marriage–especially marriage between black men and white women.  Perhaps even worse, it means possibly giving blacks–or women–the right to vote.

In fact, the possibility that blacks might win voting rights arises early in the movie.  Lincoln is speaking to a couple of black Union soldiers, and one of them is unafraid to voice his discontent.

He’s upset that black soldiers are paid less than white ones–and that they’re led only by white officers.

He says that, in time, maybe this will change.  Maybe, in 100 years, he guesses, blacks will get the right to vote.

(To the shame of all Americans, that’s how long it will eventually take.  Not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will blacks be guaranteed legal protection against discriminatory voting practices.)

To understand the Congressional debate over the Thirteenth Amendment, it’s necessary to remember this:  In Lincoln’s time, the Republicans were the party ofprogressives.

The party was founded on an anti-slavery platform.  Its members were thus reviled as “Black Republicans.”

And until the 1960s, the South was solidly DemocraticDemocrats were the ones defending the status quo–slavery–and opposing freed blacks in the South of Reconstruction and long afterward.

In short, in the 18th century, Democrats in the South acted as Republicans do now.

The South went Republican only after a Democratic President–Lyndon B. Johnson–rammed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.

Watching this re-enactment of the 1865 debate in Lincoln is like watching a rerun of the 2012 Presidential campaign.  The same mentalities are at work:

  • Those (in this case, slave-owners) who already have a great deal want to gain even more at the expense of others.
  • Those (slaves and freed blacks) who have little strive to gain more or at least hang onto what they still have.
  • Those who defend the privileged wealthy refuse to allow their “social inferiors” to enjoy similar privileges (such as the right to vote).

During the 2012 Presidential race, the Republicans tried to bar those likely to vote for President Barack Obama from getting into the voting booth.  But their bogus “voter ID” restrictions were struck down in courts across the nation.

Listening to those opposing the amendment, one is reminded of Mitt Romney’s infamous comments about the “47%: “

“Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what….

“Who are dependent upon government, who believe that–-that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.

“But that’s-–it’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.”

In the end, however, it is Abraham Lincoln who has the final word.  Through diplomacy and backroom dealings (trading political offices for votes) he wins passage of the anti-slavery amendment.

The movie closes with a historically-correct tribute to Lincoln’s generosity toward those who opposed him–in Congress and on the battlefield.

It occurs during Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all….To bind up the nation’s wounds.  To care for him who shall have bourne the battle and for his widow and his orphan….”

This ending presents a vivid philosophical contrast with Romney’s sore-loser comments: “The president’s campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift.”

Watching Lincoln, you realize how incredibly lucky we were as a nation to have had such leadership when it was most needed.  And how desperately we need it now.

INFORMANTS VS. RATS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement on December 3, 2014 at 12:00 am

In the 1981 police drama, “Prince of the City,” both cops and criminals use plenty of four-letter words.

But the word both groups consider the most obscene is spelled is spelled with three letters: R-a-t.

The movie is based on the true-life story of former NYPD detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film, and played by Treat Williams).  It’s based on the best-selling nonfiction book, Prince of the City, by Robert Daley, a former deputy commissioner with NYPD.

Leuci/Ciello volunteers to work undercover against massive corruption among lawyers, bail bondsmen and even his fellow narcotics agents.

Along the way, the movie gives viewers numerous insights into not only how real-world cops work but how they see the world–and their role in it.

Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in “Prince of the City”)

In its first scenes, “Prince” shows members of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) preparing for a major raid on an apartment of Columbian drug-dealers.

Ciello, sitting in a restaurant, gets a tip on the Columbians from one of his informants.  He then phones it in to his fellow officers.  Together, they raid the apartment, assault the dealers, and confiscate their drugs and money.

The film makes it clear that even an elite detective squad can’t operate effectively without informants.  And in narcotics cases, these are either addicts willing to sell out their suppliers or other drug-dealers willing to sell out their competitors.

For the cops, the payoff is information that leads to arrests.  In the case of the SIU, that means big, headline-grabbing arrests.

Drug raid

With their superiors happy, the stree-level detectives are largely unsupervised–which is how they like it.  Because most of them are doing a brisk business shaking down drug-dealers for their cash.

For their informants, the payoffs come in several forms, including:

  • Allowing addicts to continue using illegal drugs.
  • Supplying addicts with drugs, such as heroin.
  • Allowing drug-dealers to continue doing business.
  • Supplying drug-dealers with information about upcoming police raids on their locations.

All of these activities are strictly against the law.  But to the men charged with enforcing anti-narcotics laws, this is the price to be paid for effective policing.

But not all police informants are criminals.  Many of them work in highly technical industries–such as  phone companies.

A “connection” such as this is truly prized.  With it, a detective can illegally eavesdrop on the conversations of those he’s targeting.

He doesn’t have to go through the hassles of getting a court-approved wiretap.  Assuming he has enough evidence to convince a judge to grant such a wiretap.

A top priority for any cop–especially a narcotics cop–is protecting the identities of his informants.

At the very least, exposing such identities could lead to embarrassment, unemployment, arrest and imprisonment.  At worst, it could lead to the murder of those informants by enraged criminals.

But there is another reason for protecting the identity of informants: The cop who amasses a roster of prized informants is seen as someone special within the police department, by colleagues and superiors alike.

He knows “something” they do not.  And that “something” allows him to make a lot of arrests–which, in turn, reflects well on the police department.

If those arrests end in convictions, his status within the department is further enhanced.

But while a cop is always on the lookout for informants against potential targets, that doesn’t prevent him from generally holding such people in contempt.

“Rats,” “finks,” “stool pigeons,” “canaries,” “informers”–these are among the more printable terms (for most media) cops use to describe those who betray the trust of others.

Such terms are never used by cops when speaking to their informants.

For cops, the most feared- and -hated part of every police department is its Internal Affairs Division (IAD).  This is the unit charged with investigating allegations of illegal behavior by police.

For most cops, IAD represents the devil incarnate.  Any officer who would be willing to “lock up” a “brother officer” is considered a traitor to the police brotherhood.

Even if that “brother officer” is engaging in behavior that completely violates his sworn oath “to protect and serve.”

In “Prince of the City,” Danny Ciello gives voice to just these feelings.

He’s preparing to betray the trust of his fellow narcotics officers by exposing the massive corruption among them.  Yet he fiercely rejects the idea that he is a “rat.”

“A rat is when they catch you and make you an informer,” he tells his wife.  “This is my game.”

Ciello has volunteered to obtain evidence of corruption; he’s not under some prosecutor’s thumb.  That, to him, makes him different from a “rat.”

Of course, once Ciello’s cover is blown and his fellow cops learn what he has done, they will forever brand him a “rat,” the worst sort of turncoat.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy.  A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”

For viewers seeking to learn the workings–and mindsets–of real-world police agencies,  “Prince of the City” has a great many lessons to teach.

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