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Posts Tagged ‘CEOS’

CORPORATE DATA BREACHES? BLAME CEOs: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 2, 2019 at 12:43 am

On July 15, 2015, Ashley Madison joined the list of companies that failed to safeguard their customers’ most sensitive information—such as their credit card numbers, addresses, emails and phone numbers.

And Ashley Madison had more reason than most to do this—as the notorious website for cheating wives and husbands.

After all, its database is a blackmailer’s dream-come-true. Yet apparently its owners didn’t care enough about the privacy of their customers to provide adequate security.

Like so many other companies hit by hackers, Ashley Madison sought to reassure its dangerously compromised customers:

“At this time, we have been able to secure our sites, and close the unauthorized access points. We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act.”

This statement gave new meaning to the phrase, “Closing the barn door after the cow has gotten out.”

Avid Life Media assured its customers that it had hired “one of the world’s top IT security teams” to work on the breach.

Adultery-dating website Ashley Madison hacked

So why wasn’t this “top IT security team” hired at the outset?

On August 18, 2015, the hackers began releasing their pirated information. 

Ashley Madison’s customers chose to put their private information on its computer system.

Those of Equifax, didn’t. Equifax collected this from credit card companies.

From Mid-May through July, 2017, Equifax was hacked. The breach was discovered on July 29. 

But the company didn’t announce it until September 7, 2017.

As a result, the private data of nearly 150 million people was compromised.

On July 22, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that Equifax, one of the nation’s largest credit-reporting companies, would pay up to $700 million to settle with the FTC and consumers.

If approved by the federal district court Northern District of Georgia, the settlement will provide up to $425 million in monetary relief to consumers and a $100 million civil money penalty.

According to Karl A. Racine, attorney general for Washington, D.C., it’s the largest settlement ever for a data breach. 

“Equifax failed to protect consumers’ information and failed to enact reasonable security measures under California’s data security laws,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a news conference.

“That left very important personal information exposed and allowed hackers to steal consumers’ names, Social Security numbers, their birth dates, their addresses and in some instances their driver’s license number and even credit related information.”

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And for those who believe the private sector is inherently more efficient than the public one: On the week that Equifax agreed to pay $700 million for its massive 2017 data breach, Richard Smith, its disgraced former CEO, got some wonderful news: 

  • He was slated to receive as much as $19.6 million in stock bonuses since leaving the company.
  • That’s roughly 1,000 times the $20,000 maximum payout that any financially damaged consumer can collect from Equifax.
  • In addition, Equifax agreed to cover Smith’s medical bills for life, a benefit the company estimates is worth another $103,500.
  • Equifax decided he deserved a $24 million pension.
  • Smith got $50,000 in tax and financial planning services.
  • His stock bonuses cover a period that includes the former executive’s performance in 2017. 

When CBS News contacted Equifax on this development, the company refused to comment. Neither could Smith be reached.

There is a reason why these security breaches keep happening.

An October 22, 2014 “commentary” published in Forbes magazine raised the highly disturbing question: “Cybersecurity: Does Corporate America Really Care?”

And the answer is clearly: No.

Its author was John Hering, co-founder and executive director of Lookout, which bills itself as “the world leader in mobile security for consumers and enterprises alike.”

Click here: Cybersecurity: Does corporate America really care?

“One thing is clear,” wrote Hering. “CEOs need to put security on their strategic agendas alongside revenue growth and other issues given priority in boardrooms.”

Hering warned that “CEOs don’t seem to be making security a priority.” And he offered several reasons for this:

  • The sheer number of data compromises.
  • Relatively little consumer outcry.
  • Almost no impact on the companies’ standing on Wall Street.
  • Executives may consider such breaches part of the cost of doing business.

“There’s a short-term mindset and denial of convenience in board rooms,” wrote Hering.

“Top executives don’t realize their systems are vulnerable and don’t understand the risks. Sales figures and new products are top of mind; shoring up IT systems aren’t.”

There are three ways corporations can be forced to start behaving responsibly on this issue.

  1. Smart attorneys need to start filing class-action lawsuits against companies that refuse to take steps to protect their customers’ private information. There is a name for such behavior: Criminal negligence. And there are laws carrying serious penalties for it.
  2. There must be Federal legislation to ensure that multi-million-dollar fines are levied against such companies—and especially their CEOs—when such data breaches occur.
  3. The Justice Department should vigorously prosecute CEOs whose companies’ criminal negligence leads to such massive data breaches. They should be considered as accessories to crime, and, if convicted, sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Only then will the CEO mindset of “We don’t care, we don’t have to” be replaced with: “We care, because we’ll lose our money and/or freedom if we don’t.”

CORPORATE DATA BREACHES? BLAME CEOs: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 1, 2019 at 12:08 am

Comedian Lily Tomlin rose to fame on the 1960s comedy hit, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, as Ernestine, the rude, sarcastic switchboard operator for Ma Bell.

She would tap into customers’ calls, interrupt them, make snide remarks about their personal lives. And her victims included celebrities as much as run-of-the-mill customers.

Lily Tomlin as Ernestine

She introduced herself as working for “the phone company, serving everyone from presidents and kings to the scum of the earth.”

But perhaps the line for which her character is best remembered was: “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.”

Watching Ernestine on Laugh-In was a blast for millions of TV viewers. But facing such corporate arrogance in real-life is no laughing matter.

Clearly, too many companies take the same attitude as Ernestine: “We don’t care. We don’t have to.”

This is especially true for companies that are supposed to safeguard their customers’ most sensitive information—such as their credit card numbers, addresses, emails and phone numbers.

Among those companies hacked:

  • Kmart
  • Staples
  • Dairy Queen
  • Target
  • Sony Pictures 
  • Primera Blue Cross
  • Home Depot
  • JPMorgan/Chase

In 2015, they were joined by health insurance giant Anthem Inc. The company announced that hackers had breached its computer system and accessed the medical records of tens of millions of its customers and employees.

Anthem, the nation’s second-largest health insurer, said the infiltrated database held records on up to 80 million people.

Among the customers’ information accessed:

  • Names
  • Birthdates
  • Social Security numbers
  • Member ID numbers
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Email addresses 
  • Employment information

Some of the customer data may have included details on their income.

Click here: Anthem hack exposes data on 80 million; experts warn of identity theft – LA Times

Bad as that news was, worse was to come.

A February 5, 2015 story by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Anthem stored the Social Security numbers of 80 million customers without encrypting them.

The company believed that hackers used a stolen employee password to access the database

Anthem’s alleged reason for refusing to encrypt such sensitive data: Doing so would have made it harder for the company’s employees to track health care trends or share data with state and Federal health providers.

Anthem spokeswoman Kristin Binns blamed the data breach on employers and government agencies who “require us to maintain a member’s Social Security number in our systems so that their systems can uniquely identify their members.”

She said that Anthem encrypted personal data when it moves in or out of its database–-but not where it is stored.

This is a commonplace practice in the healthcare industry.

The FBI launched an investigation into the hack.

According to an anonymous source, the hackers used malware that has been used almost exclusively by Chinese cyberspies.

Naturally, China denied any wrongdoing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “We maintain a cooperative, open and secure cyberspace, and we hope that countries around the world will make concerted efforts to that end.”

He also said that the charge that the hackers were Chinese was “groundless.”  

On July 15, 2015, Ashley Madison—the notorious website for cheating wives and husbands—joined this list.

Launched in 2001, its catchy slogan is: “Life is short.  Have an affair.”

One of its ads featured a photo of a woman apparently kneeling at the feet of a bare-chested man, her hand passionately clawing at his belt. Next to her was the caption: “Join FREE & change your life today. Guaranteed!”

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Millions of its clients suddenly found their lives changed in ways they never imagined—for the worse.

Ashley Madison claimed to have more than 37 million members.  

Its hackers were enraged at the company’s refusal to fully delete users’ profiles unless it received a $19 fee.

Referring to themselves as “The Impact Team,” they stated in an online manifesto: “Full Delete netted [Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison] $1.7 million in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie.

“Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real names and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.”

On July 20, 2015, Avid Life Media defended the service, and promised to make it free.

The hackers demanded: “AM [Ashley Madison] AND EM [Established Men] MUST SHUT DOWN IMMEDIATELY PERMANENTLY.

“We have taken over all systems in your entire office and production domains, all customer information databases, source code repositories, financial records, emails.

“Shutting down AM and EM will cost you, but non-compliance will cost you more.”

The hackers threatened to “release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.”

Avid Life Media assured its customers that it had hired “one of the world’s top IT security teams” to work on the breach:

“At this time, we have been able to secure our sites, and close the unauthorized access points. We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act.”

So why didn’t the company hire “one of the world’s top IT security teams” before the hack?

LOAN-TEST CEOS LIKE WELFARE APPLICANTS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 4, 2018 at 1:26 am

Robert Benmosche, the CEO of American International Group (AIG) had some blunt advice to college graduates searching for work.

“You have to accept the hand that’s been dealt you in life,” Benmosche said in a 2013 interview on Bloomberg Television. “Don’t cry about it. Deal with it.”

As is typical of one-percenters, Benmosche blamed willing-to-work college graduates for the refusal of rich employers to offer jobs instead of excuses.

AIG’s way of “accepting the hand that’s been dealt you in life” was to go crying to the Federal Government for a bailout loan—which eventually ballooned to $182 billion.

If college graduates should “deal with” the hardships of finding a responsible, hiring-inclined employer with a stiff upper lip, as Benmosche advised, the same advice should work wonders on greed-fueled CEOs.

Greed-test CEOs for future government loans.

After all, drug-testing welfare recipients has become the new mantra for Republicans.

Some bills have even targeted people who seek unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence that the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

The concept of background screening is actually sound. But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to CEOs of the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

In 2008, Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, testified before Congress about the origins of the Wall Street “meltdown.”

He admitted that he was “shocked” at the breakdown in U.S. credit markets and said he was “partially” wrong to resist regulation of some securities.

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity—myself especially—are in a state of shocked disbelief,” said Greenspan, who had ruled the Fed from 1987 to 2006. 

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Alan Greenspan

As a disciple of the right-wing philosopher, Ayan Rand, Greenspan had fiercely held to her belief that “The Market” was a divine institution. As such, “it” alone knew what was best for the nation’s economic prosperity.

“Enlightened self-interest,” he believed, would guarantee that those who dedicated their lives to making money would not allow mere greed to steer them—and the country—into disaster.

As he saw it, any attempt to regulate greed-based appetites could only harm that divine institution.

This had been the prevailing attitude among businessmen prior to the 1929 Wall Street crash that brought on the Great Depression. It proved wrong then.

And it proved wrong for Greenspan—and the country—in 2008. And the nation will be literally paying for such misguided confidence in profit-addicted men for decades to come.

So if Republicans want to protect the “poor, oppressed taxpayer,” they should demand background investigations for those whose addiction truly threatens the economic future of this country.

That is: The men (and occasionally women) who run the nation’s most important financial institutions, such as banks, insurance and mortgage companies.

Thus, in the future, all CEOs—and their families and topmost executives—of financial institutions seeking Federal bailouts should be required to:

  • Undergo “full field investigations” by the FBI and IRS.
  • Submit full financial disclosure forms concerning not only themselves but all members of their immediate families.
  • Be subject to Federal prosecution for perjury if they provide false information or conceal evidence of criminal violations.
  • Periodically submit themselves for additional background investigation.
  • Be subject to arrest, indictment and prosecution if the background investigation turns up evidence of criminal activity.

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In addition:

  • If a bailout-seeking financial institution refuses to comply with these criteria, it should be refused the loan.
  • If a CEO and/or other top officials are judged ineligible for a loan, the company should be asked to replace those executives with others who might qualify.
  • Those alternative executives should be subject to the same background investigation requirements as just outlined.
  • If the institution refuses to replace those executives found ineligible, the Government should refuse the loan.
  • If the Government is forced to take over a troubled financial institution, its CEO and top executives should be replaced with applicants who have passed the required security screening.

The United States has a long and embarrassing history in worshiping wealth for its own sake. Part of this can be traced to the old Calvinistic doctrine that wealth is a proof of salvation, since it shows evidence of God’s favor.

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

Another reason for this worship of mammon is the belief that someone who is wealthy is automatically endowed with wisdom and integrity. If that were true, Mafia bosses would be the moral equivalent of Saint Augustine.

Following these beliefs to their ultimate conclusion will transform the United States into a plutocracy—a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy.

Every day—from President Donald Trump on down—we see fresh evidence of the destruction wrought by the unchecked greed of wealthy, powerful men.

When they—and their paid shills in Congress—demand, “De-regulate business,” it’s essential to remember what this really means.

It means: “Let criminals be criminals.”

LOAN-TEST CEOS LIKE WELFARE APPLICANTS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 3, 2018 at 12:13 am

The late Robert Benmosche, then CEO of American International Group (AIG), had some blunt advice to college graduates searching for work in a tight job market.

Robert Benmosche

“You have to accept the hand that’s been dealt you in life,” Benmosche said in a 2013 interview on Bloomberg Television. “Don’t cry about it. Deal with it.”

Typical advice from a one-percenter whose company, AIG, suffered a liquidity crisis when its credit ratings were downgraded below “AA” levels in September, 2008.

So how did AIG “deal with” its own crisis?  It went crying to its Uncle Sugar, the United States Government, for a bailout.

Which it promptly got.

The United States Federal Reserve Bank, on September 16, 2008, made an $85 billion loan to AIG to meet increased collateral obligations resulting from its credit rating downgrade–and thus saving it from certain bankruptcy.

In return, the Government took an 80% stake in the firm.

(The bailout eventually ballooned to $182 billion in exchange for a 92% stake.)

College graduates, said Benmosche, needed to seize the opportunities that become available to them, even if their options are limited.

“They want me to talk to the students and give them a sense of encouragement, especially with the high unemployment,” said Benmosche.

“My advice will be, ‘Whatever opportunity comes your way, take it. Take it and treat it as if it’s the only one that’s coming your way, because that actually may be the truth.’” 

Yes, if you have the opportunity to cry yourself into a multi-billion dollar loan from the Federal Government, by all means, do so.

Of course, willing-to-work college graduates who can’t find willing-to-hire employers won’t be able to count on a generous bailout from the Federal Government.

To which most of them will owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.

It’s long past time to apply to “untouchable” CEOs like Robert Benmosche the same criteria that Right-wing Republicans demand be applied to welfare recipients.

Republican lawmakers have vigorously pursued welfare drug-testing in Congress and more than 30 states.

Some bills have even targeted people who claim unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

The concept of background screening is actually sound. But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

For example:

  • The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has invested $118.5 billion in restoring liquidity to the financial markets.
  • Federal Reserve rescue efforts: $1.5 trillion invested.
  • Federal stimulus programs designed to save or create jobs and jumpstart the economy from recession. $577.8 billion invested.
  • American International Group: Multifaceted bailout to help insurers through restructuring, minimize the need to post collateral and get rid of toxic assets. $127.4 billion invested.
  • FDIC bank takeovers: Cost to FDIC fund that insures losses depositors suffer when a bank fails. $45.4 billion invested.
  • Other financial initiatives designed to rescue the financial sector. $366.4 billion invested.
  • Other housing initiatives designed to rescue the housing market and prevent foreclosures. $130.6 billion invested.

According to the Special Inspector General for the TARP bailout, the total commitment of government is $16.8 trillion dollars with the $4.6 trillion already paid out. 

And it’s equally important to remember that welfare recipients did not:

  • Hold CEO positions at any of the banks so far bailed out;
  • Run such insurance companies as American International Group (AIG);
  • Administer the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, known as Freddie Mac;
  • Command the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae.

The 2010 documentary Inside Job chronicles the events leading to the 2008 global financial crisis. One of its most insightful moments occurs at a party held by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

“We can’t control our greed,” the CEO of a large bank admits to his fellow guests. “You should regulate us more.”

Greed is defined as an excessive desire for wealth or goods. At its worst, greed trumps rationality, judgment and concern about the damage it may cause.

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

Cocaine, for example, directly increases dopamine levels. So does money.

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

Dopamine is most reliably activated by an experience we haven’t had before. We crave recreating that experience.

But snorting the same amount of cocaine, or earning the same sum of money, does not cause dopamine levels to increase. So the pleasure-seeker must increase the amount of stimuli to keep enjoying the euphoria.

In time, this incessant craving for pleasure becomes an addiction. And feeding that addiction–-with ever more money–becomes the overriding goal.

Thus, the infamous line—”Greed is good”—in the 1987 film, Wall Street, turns out to be both false and deadly for all concerned. 

But the situation need not remain this way.

WHY AMERICANS HATE CABLE COMPANIES

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help on July 29, 2016 at 12:17 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 Stiffling People and Strangling Profits.

Though published 46 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 $19.25 billion for the fourth quarter of 2015.

In 2015, Roberts earned $36.2 million in salary, options and other compensation, a 10% increase from 2014.

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.

GREED-TESTING FOR CEOs

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 15, 2015 at 12:01 am

Robert Benmosche, the CEO of American International Group (AIG) had some blunt advice to college graduates searching for work in a tight job market.

Robert Benmosche

“You have to accept the hand that’s been dealt you in life,” Benmosche said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “Don’t cry about it. Deal with it.”

Typical advice from a one-percenter whose company, AIG, suffered a liquidity crisis when its credit ratings were downgraded below “AA” levels in September, 2008.

And how did AIG “deal with” its own crisis?  It went crying to its Uncle Sugar, the United States Government, for a bailout.

Which it promptly got.

The United States Federal Reserve Bank, on September 16, 2008, made an $85 billion loan to the company to meet increased collateral obligations resulting from its credit rating downgrade–and thus saving it from certain bankruptcy.

In return, the Government took an 80% stake in the firm.

(The bailout eventually ballooned to $182 billion in exchange for a 92%  stake.)

College graduates, said Benmosche, needed to seize the opportunities that become available to them, even if their options are limited.

“They want me to talk to the students and give them a sense of encouragement, especially with the high unemployment,” said Benmosche.

“My advice will be, ‘Whatever opportunity comes your way, take it. Take it and treat it as if it’s the only one that’s coming your way, because that actually may be the truth.’”

Of course, willing-to-work college graduates who can’t find willing-to-hire employers won’t be able to count on a generous bailout from the Federal Government.

To which most of them will owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.

It’s long past time to apply to “untouchable” CEOs like Robert Benmosche the same criteria that right-wing Republicans demand be applied to welfare recipients.

Throughout the past year Republican lawmakers have pursued welfare drug-testing in Congress and more than 30 states.

Some bills have even targeted people who claim unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

The concept of background screening is actually sound. But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

For example:

  • The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has invested $118.5 billion in restoring liquidity to the financial markets.
  • Federal Reserve rescue efforts: $1.5 trillion invested.
  • Federal stimulus programs designed to save or create jobs and jumpstart the economy from recession. $577.8 billion invested.
  • American International Group: Multifaceted bailout to help insurers through restructuring, minimize the need to post collateral and get rid of toxic assets. $127.4 billion invested.
  • FDIC bank takeovers: Cost to FDIC fund that insures losses depositors suffer when a bank fails. $45.4 billion invested.
  • Other financial initiatives designed to rescue the financial sector. $366.4 billion invested.
  • Other housing initiatives designed to rescue the housing market and prevent foreclosures. $130.6 billion invested.

Total of federal monies invested: $3 trillion.

It’s important to note that these figures–supplied by the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Congressional Budget Ooffice and the White House–date from November 16, 2009.

And it’s equally important to remember that welfare recipients did not

  • hold CEO positions at any of the banks so far bailed out;
  • run such insurance companies as American International Group (AIG);
  • administer the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, known as Freddie Mac;
  • command the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae.

The 2010 documentary Inside Job chronicles the events leading to the 2008 global financial crisis. One of its most insightful moments occurs at a party held by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

“We can’t control our greed,” the CEO of a large bank admits to his fellow guests.  “You should regulate us more.”

Greed is defined as an excessive desire for wealth or goods. At its worst, greed trumps rationality, judgment and concern about the damage it may cause.

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

Cocaine, for example, directly increases dopamine levels. So does money.

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

Dopamine is most reliably activated by an experience we haven’t had before. We crave recreating that experience.

But snorting the same amount of cocaine, or earning the same sum of money, does not cause dopamine levels to increase. So the pleasure-seeker must increase the amount of stimuli to keep enjoying the euphoria.

In time, this incessant craving for pleasure becomes an addiction. And feeding that addiction–-with ever more money–becomes the overriding goal.

Thus, the infamous line–”Greed is good”–in the 1987 film, Wall Street, turns out to be both false and deadly for all concerned.

“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.

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

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help on November 6, 2013 at 12:56 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?

  1. Go on the Internet 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.
  2. Start looking at the bottom of the website page.  Many companies/agencies put this information there–and usually in small print.
  3. Look for the names of officials who can help you.  That means the ones at the top–or at least high enough so you can be sure that whoever responds to your call/letter/email has the necessary clout to address your problem.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Give the gist and ask for a referral to someone who can help resolve your problem.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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. 
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.  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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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 reputation for integrity/efficiency and that the organization is not well-served by such behavior.
  15. Whoever reads your letter/email will instantly realize the legal implications of what you’re saying–and, in most cases, will take quick action to head off a lawsuit by trying to satisfy your request.  The foremost priority of every bureaucracy is to ensure its own survival.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. Then state what you want the company to do.  Again, be fair and reasonable.

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

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help on November 5, 2013 at 1:15 am

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.  They want to siphon off as much of the company’s profits for themselves as possible.

And 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.  To a bean-counting executive, time is money.

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; and
  2. If you do, you also have Internet access.

If you

  • Don’t have a computer; or
  • You have a computer but don’t have Internet access; or
  • You do have Internet access but the service is down,

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 souds–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.

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