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Posts Tagged ‘CORPORATIONS’

EVERYTHING’S BIGGER IN TEXAS–INCLUDING HYPOCRISY

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 30, 2017 at 1:54 am

On August 25, Hurricane Harvey smashed into Texas with torrential rain and winds of 130 mph. 

Within three days, thousands of homes were flooded and hundreds had to be rescued from rising flood waters.

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Rain-flooded streets in South Texas

And Texas United States Senator Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz quickly requested full-fledged Federal relief for his state.

But in 2012, Cruz voted three times against federal aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Then he reversed himself in 2013, by seeking “all available resources” for victims of the April 17 explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, McLennan County, Texas.

The blast killed 13 people, wounded about 200 others, and caused extensive damages to surrounding homes.

In October, 2012, Hurricane Sandy had killed about 150 people and caused an estimated $75 billion in damage across the Northeast.

The Republican legislator stood foursquare against the Sandy Aid Relief bill, claiming that it was loaded with “pork”:

“Hurricane Sandy inflicted devastating damage on the East Coast, and Congress appropriately responded with hurricane relief,” said Cruz.

“Unfortunately, cynical politicians in Washington could not resist loading up this relief bill with billions in new spending utterly unrelated to Sandy.

“Emergency relief for the families who are suffering from this natural disaster should not be used as a Christmas tree for billions in unrelated spending, including projects such as Smithsonian repairs, upgrades to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration airplanes, and more funding for Head Start.”

Another Republican, Rep. Bill Flores, who represented West,  McLennan County, also voted against the Sandy relief package. But this didn’t stop him from requesting federal aid for the disaster in his home district.

Image result for Images of U.S. Senator Rafael Edward Cruz

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

According to PolitiFact, “A big portion of the $17 billion in ‘immediate’ assistance, more than $5 billion, went to replenish FEMA’s disaster relief fund, which may fund relief from future disasters.”

Furthermore, Rick Ungar, writing at Forbes, pointed out that the “pork” came from having to bribe red state Republicans-–including Texas—to get the package passed over their filibuster:

“However, as it turns out, the pork portions of the Senate bill were not earmarked to benefit Democratic members of the upper chamber of Congress….

“The answer can be found in a quick review of the states that are set to benefit from the Senate’s extra-special benevolence—states including Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana.” All of these have solid Republican constituencies.

In fact, Texas had the most FEMA-declared disasters since the start of 2009, according to a September 29, 2011 article in iWatch News

“Eleven Republican U.S. senators who represent the states with the most FEMA-declared disasters since the start of 2009 voted against a bill designed to keep the agency’s disaster relief fund from running out of cash.”

“The top two states, Texas and Oklahoma, combined for more than a quarter of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s declared disasters since Jan. 1, 2009.”

Yet the hypocrisy didn’t end there.

“The nation’s number one resource is its workers,” said Keith Wrightson, safety expert at Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. “But the agency that’s charged with protecting them is not given the resources to do it. I think it’s worrisome for the nation.”

The West Fertilizer Company facility hadn’t been inspected by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since 1985, when the company was fined $30. Why did the facility go for almost 30 years without further inspections from OSHA?

As a small employer, the fertilizer facility may have been exempt from some forms of OSHA scrutiny. Years ago, Congress attached a rider to agency funding that forbids OSHA to perform inspections of workplaces with 10 or fewer employees and whose industries have low injury rates.

Lawmakers reasoned that small businesses shouldn’t have to shoulder the same costs of compliance as larger ones.

But smaller worksites aren’t necessarily less dangerous.  According to safety advocates, small companies often  have fewer resources to invest in worker safety and, with less government oversight, even less incentive.

On April 20, 2013, the damning news broke in a Reuters story:

“The fertilizer plant that  exploded on Wednesday, obliterating part of a small Texas town  and killing at least 14 people, had last year been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”

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Explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, McLennan County, Texas

According to Reuters, West Fertilizer, the company that owned the plant, did not tell DHS about the potentially explosive fertilizer as it was required to do.

The DHS is a major regulator of ammonium nitrate-–which can also be used in bomb making. Thus, it was left totally unaware of the potential danger posed by the plant..

Fertilizer plants and depots must report to the DHS when they hold 400 lb or more of the substance. Filings this  year with the Texas Department of State Health Services, which  weren’t shared with DHS, show the plant had 270 tons of it on hand in 2012. 

Recently called out for his efforts to deny aid to Hurricane Sandy victims, Cruz replied: “Well, you know, look. There’s time for political sniping later. I think our focus needs to be on this crisis.” 

In short, it’s a crisis when it happens in his state, not when it happens elsewhere.

GIVING ADVICE–SAFELY

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics on June 23, 2016 at 1:14 am

On the rare occasion when most people think of Niccolo Machiavelli, the image of the devil comes to mind.

Niccolo Machiavelli

In fact, “The Old Nick” became an English term used to describe Satan and slander Machiavelli at the same time.

The truth, however, is more complex. Machiavelli was a passionate Republican, who spent most of his adult life in the service of his beloved city-state, Florence.

The years he spent as a diplomat were tumultuous ones for Italy–with men like Pope Julius II and Caesare Borgia vying for power and plunging Italy into one bloodbath after another.

Machiavelli is best-known for his writing of The Prince, a pamphlet on the arts of gaining and holding power. Its admirers have included Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin.

But his longer and more thoughtful work is The Discourses, in which he offers advice on how to maintain liberty within a republic. Among its admirers were many of the men who framed the Constitution of the United States.

Also contrary to what most people believe about Machiavelli, he did not advocate evil for its own sake. Rather, he recognized that sometimes there is no perfect–or perfectly good–solution to a problem.

Sometimes it’s necessary to take stern–even brutal–action to stop an evil (such as a riot) before it becomes widespread.

His counsel remains as relevant today as it did during his lifetime (1469 – 1527)–especially for politicians.

But plenty of ordinary citizens can also benefit from the advice he has to offer–such as those who are asked to give advice to more powerful superiors.

Machiavelli warns there is danger in urging rulers to take a particular course of action:  

“For men only judge of matters by the result, all the blame of failure is charged upon him who first advised it, while in case of success he receives commendations. But the reward never equals the punishment.”

This puts would-be counselors in a difficult position: “If they do not advise what seems to them for the good of the republic or the prince, regardless of the consequences to themselves, then they fail to do their duty.  

“And if they do advise it, then it is at the risk of their position and their lives, for all men are blind in thus, that they judge of good or evil counsels only by the results.”

Thus, Machiavelli warns that an adviser should “take things moderately, and not to undertake to advocate any enterprise with too much zeal, but to give one’s advice calmly and modestly.”

The person who asked for the advice may follow it, or not, as of his own choice, and not because he was led or forced into it by the adviser.

Above all, the adviser must avoid the danger of urging a course of action that runs “contrary to the wishes of the many.  

“For the danger arises when your advice has caused the many to be contravened. In that case, when the result is unfortunate, they all concur in your destruction.”

Or, as President John F. Kennedy famously said after the disastrous invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April, 1961: “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.”

John F. Kennedy

By “not advocating any enterprise with too much zeal,” the adviser gains two advantages:

“The first is, you avoid all danger.

“And the second consists in the great credit which you will have if, after having modestly advised a certain course, your counsel is rejected, and the adoption of a different course results unfortunately.”

Finally, the time to give advice is before a catastrophe occurs, not after. Machiavelli gives a vivid example of what can happen if this rule is ignored.

King Perseus of Macedon had gone to war with Paulus Aemilius–and suffered a humiliating defeat. Fleeing the battlefield with a handful of his men, he later bewailed the disaster that had overtaken him.

Suddenly, one of his lieutenants began to lecture Perseus on the many errors he had committed, which had led to his ruin.

“Traitor,” raged the king, turning upon him, “you have waited until now to tell me all this, when there is no longer any time to remedy it–” And Perseus slew him with his own hands.

Niccolo Machiavelli sums up the lesson as this:

“Thus was this man punished for having been silent when he should have spoken, and for having spoken when he should have been silent.”

Be careful that you don’t make the same mistake.

HOW TO BE A SMARTER EXECUTIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

“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.

TRUST YOUR BOSS LIKE HE’S GOD–AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 10, 2014 at 12:25 am

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says women don’t need to ask for a raise. They should just trust “the system.”

Speaking on October 9 at an event in Phoenix to celebrate women in computing, Nadella was asked: What advice do you have for women who feel uncomfortable asking for a raise?

His reply:  “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.

“Because that’s good karma.  It’ll come back because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust.”

Satya Nadella

This from a CEO at whose company women comprise only 29% of its more than 100,000 employees.  And where its CEO has a net worth of $45 million.

Click here: Satya Nadella – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

If it’s true that corporations are people, then they are exceptionally greedy and selfish people.

A December, 2011 report by Public Campaign, highlighting corporate abuses of the tax laws, makes this all too clear.

Public Campaign is a national nonpartisan organization dedicated to reforming campaign finance laws and holding elected officials accountable.

Summarizing its conclusions, the report’s author writes:

“Amidst a growing federal deficit and widespread economic insecurity for most Americans, some of the largest corporations in the country have avoided paying their fair share in taxes while spending millions to lobby Congress and influence elections.”

Its key findings:

  • The 30 big corporations analyzed in this report paid more to lobby Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, despite being profitable.
  • Despite making combined profits totaling $164 billion in that three-year period, the 30 companies combined received tax rebates totaling nearly $11 billion.
  • Altogether, these companies spent nearly half a billion dollars ($476 million) over three years to lobby Congress. That’s about $400,000 each day, including weekends.
  • In the three-year period beginning in 2009 through most of 2011, these large firms spent over $22 million altogether on federal campaigns.
  • These corporations have also spent lavishly on compensatng their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

Among those corporations whose tax-dodging and influence-buying were analyzed:

  • General Electric
  • Verizon
  • PG&E
  • Wells Fargo
  • Duke Energy
  • Boeing
  • Consolidated Edison
  • DuPont
  • Honeywell International
  • Mattel
  • Corning
  • FedEx
  • Tenet Healthcare
  • Wisconsin Energy
  • Con-way

The report bluntly cites the growing disparity between the relatively few rich and the vast majority of poor and middle-class citizens:

“Over the past few months, a growing protest movement has shifted the debate about economic inequality in this country.

“The American people wonder why members of Congress suggest cuts to Medicare and Social Security but won’t require millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes.

“They want to know why they are struggling to find jobs and put food on the the table while the country’s largest corporations get tax breaks and sweetheart deals, then use that extra cash to pay bloated bonuses to CEOs or ship jobs overseas.

“….At a time when millions of Americans are still unemployed and millions more make tough choices to get by, these companies are enriching their top executives and spending millions of dollars on Washington lobbyists to stave off higher taxes or regulations.”

Assessing the results of corporate tax-dodging, the report states:

  • Using various tax dodging techniques, including stashing profits in overseas tax havens and tax loopholes, 29 out of 30 companies featured in this study succeeded in paying no federal income taxes from 2008 through 2010.
  • These 29 companies received tax rebates over those three years, ranging from $4 million for Corning to nearly $5 billion for General Electric and totally nearly $11 billion altogether.
  • The only corporation that paid taxes in that three-year period, FedEx, paid a three-year tax rate of 1%, far less than the statutory rate of 35%.

The report bluntly notes the hypocrisy of corporate executives who call themselves “job creators” while enriching themselves by laying off thousands of employees:

“Another area where these corporations have decided to spend lavishly is compensation for their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

“Executives doing particularly well work for General Electric ($76 million in total compensation in 2010), Honeywell International ($54 million), and Wells Fargo ($50 million).

“Executives who have seen the greatest increase work for DuPont (188% increase), Wells Fargo (180% increase) and Verizon (167% increase).

Despite being profitable, some of these corporations have actually laid off workers.

Since 2008, seven of the corporations have reported laying off American workers. The worst offenders–by 2011–are Verizon, which laid off at least 21,308 workers, and Boeing, which fired at least 14,862 employees.

Insisting that “corporations are people” wins applause from the wealthiest 1% and their Right-wing shills. But it does nothing to better the lives of the increasingly squeezed poor and middle-class.

If the nation is to avoid economic and moral bankruptcy, Americans must demand that powerful corporations be held accountable–and punished harshly when they behave irresponsibly.

COSTCO VS. WALMART: TWO VERSIONS OF EMPLOYER

In Bureaucracy, Business, Social commentary on July 29, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Corporations aren’t staffed by faceless machines.  They’re staffed by men and women.

And those men and women take their marching orders from the man (usually) or woman at the top.

Thus, you can learn a great deal about a CEO–and his company–by the way his employees are treated.

Consider the differences between Walmart and Costco.

REVENUES:

Costco:  In 2011, its revenues stood at $89 billion.

Walmart: In 2011, its revenues stood at $447 billion.  But profits declined by 4.6%, to $15.7 billion.

HEALTH INSURANCE:

Costco: About 88% of Costco employees have company-supplied health insurance.  “I just think people need to make a living wage with health benefits,” Craig Jelinek, Costco’s CEO and president, told Bloomberg.  “It also puts more money back into the economy and creates a healthier country.  It’s really that simple.”

Walmart: In January, 2014, the nation’s largest private employer will deny health insurance to newly hired employees who work less than 30 hours a week.

Walmart eliminates healthcare coverage for certain workers if their average work-week falls below 30 hours–which regularly happens at the direction of company managers.

Walmart has refused to say how many of its roughly 1.4 million U.S. workers are likely to lose medical insurance under its new policy.

Many of the Walmart workers who might be dropped from the company’s health care plans earn so little that they would qualify for the expanded Medicaid program.

Of course, if they live in any of the 26 Republican-controlled states refusing to expand Medicaid coverage, they’ll wind up with nothing.

“Walmart is effectively shifting the costs of paying for its employees onto the federal government with this new plan, which is one of the problems with the way the law is structured,” said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 2005, Susan Chambers, Walmart’s then-Vice President of Benefits, outlined how the company could remove sick workers from payrolls and avoid paying healthcare benefits.

Three major studies–in Georgia, Massachusetts and California–found Walmart employees to be the ones most reliant on government aid.  Annually, Walmart employees cost taxpayers more than $1 billion nationwide.

WAGES:

Costco:  Pays a living wage, with its employees starting as $11.50 per hour.  The average employee wage is $21 per hour, not including overtime.

Walmart: Most Walmart workers earn less than $20,000 a year.  According to Bloomberg News, the average Walmart Associate makes just $8.81 per hour.

CEO SALARY:

Costco: Its CEO and president, Craig Jelinek, made about $4.83 million in 2012.

Walmart: CEO Mike Duke made roughly $19.3 million in 2012.

According to CNN Money: Walmart’s CEO makes as much as 796 average employees.  Costco’s CEO makes 48 times more than the company’s median wage.

HOLIDAYS:

Costco:  Costco closed for Thanksgiving, giving its employees time to spend with their families.

Walmart: Forced its employees–on pain of being fired–to open its stores nationwide at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

The results: Multiple instances of fistfights, taserings and knifings among shoppers whose greed had been roused to fever pitch by Walmart advertising.

PROMOTINS:

Costco: Hires from within. More than 70% percent of its warehouse managers began their careers working the floor or the register.

Walmart:  Facing mounting criticism for its low salaries, Walmart, on October 29, announced that it would promote more than 25,000 employees by the end of January, 2014.

STABILITY:

Costco: The annual turnover rate for employees who have worked at the company for more than one year is less than six percent.  For executives, the turnover rate is less than one percent.

Walmart: Since 2008, Walmart has fired or lost 120,000 American workers, while opening more than 500 new U.S. stores.

Many workers quit to find better-paying jobs.  As a result, turnover at Walmart has been correspondingly high.

ADVERTISING:

Costco:  Doesn’t advertise or rely on a public relations staff.

Walmart: By contrast, Walmart spent $1.89 billion on self-glorifying ads in 2011.

Recently, Walmart has been forced to launch a massive PR campaign to counteract its notoriety for low pay, employment of illegal aliens, lack of health benefits and union-busting tactics.

* * * * *

Some things can’t be quantified.

Goodwill, which is created by taking care of one’s employees–paying them a living wage and providing them with medical care–is one of them.

Similarly, ill will–created by paying the lowest possible wages and forcing employees to essentially become welfare clients–is another.

And some things that can be quantified don’t necessarily make for Nirvana.

In 2012, the Forbes 400 stated that the six wealthiest heirs to the Walmart empire were collectively worth $115 billion.

Yet this has not protected the Walton family from bad publicity–such as from striking workers and news media hungry for scandal.

Nor has it shielded the Waltons from ridicule–comedians like Jay Leno routinely joke about the hordes if illegal aliens Walmart “accidentally” hires.

Americans face a stark choice between two types of corporate employer–one that protects its employees, and another that essentially preys on them.

Which direction the nation chooses to go in will largely determine its course for long-term prosperity or short-term ruin.

HERMAN CAIN: “IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT”

In Business, Politics, Social commentary on June 9, 2014 at 12:57 am

Herman Cain may run for President again.

Yes, on May 31, he told the annual Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans that he might once again take up the Presidential quest in 2016.

The kicker: if God calls upon him to do so.

“I do not know what the future holds,” said the onetime CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, “but I know who holds the future. And I trust in God.”

The last time Cain ran for President–in 2011–his campaign ended in scandal.  Multiple women came forward to accuse him of making aggressive and unwanted sexual advances.

Cain’s longtime wife, Gloria, chose to stand by him.  But millions of female voters chose other candidates to vote for.

Cain dropped out of the race in December, 2011, before any actual votes were cast.

Herman Cain

Aside from his apparent inability to keep his hands–and penis–confined to his marriage, there’s another reason why voters should think twice about voting for him.

At the Republican Presidential candidates’ debate in Las Vegas, on October 18, 2011, a telling exchange occurred between CNN journalist and moderator Anderson Cooper and GOP candidate Herman Cain.

COOPER: “How do you explain the Occupy Wall Street movement happening across the country? And how does it relate with your message?

“Herman Cain, I’ve got to ask you, you said–two weeks ago, you said, ‘Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job, and you’re not rich, blame yourself.’”

“That was two weeks ago. The movement has grown. Do you still say that?”

CAIN: “I still stand by my statement, and here’s why.  They might be frustrated with Wall Street and the bankers, but they’re directing their anger at the wrong place.

“Wall Street didn’t put in failed economic policies. Wall Street didn’t spend a trillion dollars that didn’t do any good. Wall Street isn’t going around the country trying to sell another $450 billion. They ought to be over in front of the White House taking out their frustration.”

* * * * *

So, there you have it.  If you’re one of the estimated 14 to 25 million unemployed or under-employed Americans, don’t look to Herman Cain for help or even sympathy.

It’s all your fault.

It’s your fault that, today, more than 2 million Americans have been unemployed for at least 99 weeks—the cutoff point for unemployment insurance in the hardest-hit states.

It’s your fault that the longer a person is out of work, the less likely s/he is to find an employer willing to hire.

It’s your fault that corporations across the country are now sitting atop $2 trillion in profits. 

It’s your fault that their CEOs are using those monies for enriching themselves, their bought-off politicians, their families—and occasionally their mistresses.

It’s your fault that CEOs are using those monies to buy up their corporate rivals, throw even more Americans into the streets, and pocket their wages.

It’s your fault that CEOs are using those profits to create or enlarge companies outside the United States—solely to pay substandard wages to their new employees.

It’s your fault that the one expense CEOs refuse to underwrite is hiring their fellow Americans.

It’s your fault that CEOs want to escape American employee-protection laws–such as those mandating worker’s compensation or forbidding sexual harassment.

It’s your fault that CEOs want to escape American consumer-protection laws–such as those banning the sale of lead-contaminated products (a hallmark of Chinese imports).

It’s your fault that CEOs want to escape American laws protecting the environment–such as those requiring safe storage of dangerous chemicals.

It’s your fault that mass firings of employees usually accompany corporate mergers or acquisitions.

It’s your fault that many employers victimize part-time employees, who are not legally protected against such threats as racial discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions.

It’s your fault that many employers refuse to create better than menial, low-wage jobs.

It’s your fault that right-wing politicians encourage corporate employers to extort “economic incentives” from cities or states in return for moving to or remaining in those areas.

It’s your fault that such “incentives” usually absolve employers from complying with laws protecting the environment and/or workers’ rights.

It’s your fault that many employers refuse to provide medical and pension benefits—nearly always in the case of part-time employees, and, increasingly, for full-time, permanent ones as well.

It’s your fault that crime rates are now rising, due to rising unemployment.

It’s your fault that such employers want, in short, to enrich themselves at the direct expense of their country. 

It’s your fault if you’ve forgotten that, in decades past, such conduct used to be called treason–and punished accordingly.

And it’s your fault if you vote for GOP politicians who support such corrupt and ruinous policies.

COSTCO VS. WALMART: TWO VERSIONS OF EMPLOYER

In Business on December 3, 2013 at 12:22 am

Corporations aren’t staffed by faceless machines.  They’re staffed by men and women.

And those men and women take their marching orders from the man (usually) or woman at the top.

Thus, you can learn a great deal about a CEO–and his company–by the way his employees are treated.

Consider the differences between Walmart and Costco.

REVENUES:

Costco:  In 2011, its revenues stood at $89 billion.

Walmart: In 2011, its revenues stood at $447 billion.  But profits declined by 4.6%, to $15.7 billion.

HEALTH INSURANCE:

Costco: About 88% of Costco employees have company-supplied health insurance.  “I just think people need to make a living wage with health benefits,” Craig Jelinek, Costco’s CEO and president, told Bloomberg.  “It also puts more money back into the economy and creates a healthier country.  It’s really that simple.”

Walmart: In January, 2014, the nation’s largest private employer will deny health insurance to newly hired employees who work less than 30 hours a week.

Walmart eliminates healthcare coverage for certain workers if their average work-week falls below 30 hours–which regularly happens at the direction of company managers.

Walmart has refused to say how many of its roughly 1.4 million U.S. workers are likely to lose medical insurance under its new policy.

Many of the Walmart workers who might be dropped from the company’s health care plans earn so little that they would qualify for the expanded Medicaid program.

Of course, if they live in any of the 26 Republican-controlled states refusing to expand Medicaid coverage, they’ll wind up with nothing.

“Walmart is effectively shifting the costs of paying for its employees onto the federal government with this new plan, which is one of the problems with the way the law is structured,” said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 2005, Susan Chambers, Walmart’s then-Vice President of Benefits, outlined how the company could remove sick workers from payrolls and avoid paying healthcare benefits.

Three major studies–in Georgia, Massachussetts and California–found Walmart employees to be the ones most reliant on government aid.

Annually, Walmart employees cost taxpayers more than $1 billion nationwide.

WAGES:

Costco:  Pays a living wage, with its employees starting ats $11.50 per hour.  The average employee wage is $21 per hour, not including overtime.

Walmart: Most Walmart workers earn less than $20,000 a year.  According to Bloomberg News, the average Walmart Associate makes just $8.81 per hour.

CEO SALARY:

Costco: Its CEO and president, Craig Jelinek, made about $4.83 million in 2012.

Walmart: CEO Mike Duke made roughly $19.3 million in 2012.

According to CNN Money: Walmart’s CEO makes as much as 796 average employees.  Costco’s CEO makes 48 times more than the company’s median wage.

HOLIDAYS:

Costco:  Costco closed for Thanksgiving, giving its employees time to spend with their families.

Walmart: Forced its employees–on pain of being fired–to open its stores nationwide at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

The results: Multiple instances of fistfights, taserings and knifings among shoppers whose greed had been roused to fever pitch by Walmart adverftising.

PROMOTINS:

Costco: Hires from within. More than 70% percent of its warehouse managers began their careers working the floor or the register.

Walmart:  Facing mounting criticism for its low salaries, Walmart, on October 29, announced that it would promote more than 25,000 employees by the end of January, 2014.

 STABILITY:

Costco: The annual turnover rate for employees who have worked at the company for more than one year is less than six percent.  For executives, the turnover rate is less than one percent.

Walmart: Since 2008, Walmart has fired or lost 120,000 American workers, while opening more than 500 new U.S. stores.

Many workers quit to find better-paying jobs.  As a result, turnover at Walmart has been correspondingly high.

ADVERTISING:

Costco:  Doesn’t advertise or rely on a public relations staff.

Walmart: By contrast, Walmart spent $1.89 billion on self-glorifying ads in 2011.

Recently, Walmart has been forced to launch a massive PR campaign to counteract its notoriety for low pay, employment of illegal aliens, lack of health benefits and union-busting tactics.

* * * * *

Some things can’t be quantified.

Goodwill, which is created by taking care of one’s employees–paying them a living wage and providing them with medical care–is one of them.

Similarly, ill will–created by paying the lowest possible wages and forcing employees to essentially become welfare clients–is another.

And some things that can be quantified don’t necessarily make for Nirvana.

In 2012, the Forbes 400 stated that the six wealthiest heirs to the Walmart empire were collectively worth $115 billion.

Yet this has not protected the Walton family from bad publicity–such as from striking workers and news media hungry for scandal.

Nor has it shielded the Waltons from ridicule–Jay Leno routinely jokes about the hordes if illegal aliens Walmart “accidentally” hires.

Americans face a stark choice between two types of corporate employer–one that protects its employees, and another that essentially preys on them.

Which direction the nation chooses to go in will largely determine its course for long-term prosperity or short-term ruin.

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.
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