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AN EVERYDAY THREAT TO GOVERNMENT

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 14, 2021 at 12:05 am

It’s wonderful to believe that when you have a problem, you can write your local / state / federal representative and s/he will “give it my fullest attention.”

Unfortunately, it’s also usually a mistake.

Two cases on the futility of expectations:

Case #1: On August 12, a man I’ll call Mark, wrote a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. The subject: The disgraceful performance of San Francisco’s Municipal Railway (MUNI) bus lines during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mark had previously complained to MUNI and his member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors—without result.  So now he decided to literally make it a Federal case:

“MUNI bus drivers are the highest-paid in the nation: The average MUNI driver makes $79,617, 51% above the national average bus driver salary of $52,730. This pay is 27% higher than the combined average salaries of drivers in Dallas, Boston and Atlanta.

“Yet  for  more  than  a  year,  many  of  these  drivers  have  been  ‘earning’ their pay by staying at home—or  going on  what  amounts to  an  extended vacation at the expense of San Francisco voters and MUNI riders.”

Muni | SFMTA

Many bus routes, Mark wrote, had been eliminated. This forces riders to cram themselves aboard the first bus available—making it impossible to “maintain social distancing” as recorded messages aboard MUNI buses advise.

Other routes have been substantially altered, with passengers learning this only after they are deposited far from their expected drop-off point.

These changes are especially difficult for elderly and/or disabled riders.

Mark suggested that Buttigieg threaten MUNI with:

  1. The loss of the Federal monies it now receives through the Department of Transportation; and
  2. An Americans With Disabilities lawsuit on behalf of San Franciscans now unable to receive the transit services they need.

To date—one month later—Mark has not received even the courtesy of a reply, let alone seen a positive change in MUNI’s operations.  

Pete Buttigieg official photo.jpg

Pete Buttigieg

Case #2:  Janet, a chef in Los Angeles, was fed up with getting Spam calls on her cell phone. Each time she got one, she blocked the number. Being on the national Do Not Call Registry, she believed she had an airtight case to take to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which regulates the airways.

So she called the FCC and spoke with one of its representatives.

She said that she had saved to her phone the numbers of Spam callers—and she was prepared to turn these over to the FCC.

The FCC’s rep applauded Janet’s willingness to turn over this information.

“Then what happens?” asked Janet.

“We’ll put it into our files.”

In short: the FCC had no intention of acting on the Spam-caller numbers that Janet was prepared to turn over.

Did you submit a net neutrality comment to the FCC? Are you sure?

Janet didn’t hide her disappointment: “If someone went to the FBI and said, ‘I’m being shaken down by the Mafia,’ and the FBI said, ‘Well, we’ll put this into our files’ but wasn’t willing to do anything more, how many people do you think would be willing to report crimes to the FBI?”

The FCC rep admitted that this would greatly reduce the willingness of the public to report crimes to the FBI. But she made no effort to help Janet stop the harassing Spam calls.

Incidents like the ones above are a potent reason why so many people have lost their trust in government—at all levels.

Untold numbers of average citizens feel their elected officials—and the agencies they administer—don’t care about their problems. Even worse, they believe—accurately—that if they were wealthy contributors to the Democratic or Republican party, their complaints would be addressed promptly.

On April 24, 2016, CBS’ longtime documentary series, “60 Minutes,” aired a segment titled “Dialing for Dollars.”  

It opened with the following: “The American public has a low opinion of Congress. Only 14 percent think it’s doing a good job. But Congress has excelled in one way. Raising money. Members of Congress raised more than a billion dollars for their 2014 election. And they never stop. 

“Nearly every day, they spend hours on the phone asking supporters and even total strangers for campaign donations—hours spent away from the jobs they were elected to do. The pressure on candidates to raise money has ratcheted up since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. That allowed unlimited spending by corporations, unions and individuals in elections.”

Coat of arms or logo

In short: Members of Congress—the branch that writes the laws governing the lives of 328.2 million Americans—have essentially become telemarketers.

People who write to their members of Congress expect at least the courtesy of a reply addressing their concerns within a reasonable period of time. Many constituents will not receive even that.

Or the “reply” they receive arrives weeks or months later—and opens with: “Thank you for writing me to support my bill….”

Usually they haven’t even heard of the bill cited—and couldn’t care less about it. As they scan the letter—no doubt drafted by a low-level staffer—they search in vain for an offer of help, or at least empathy. 

Millions of Americans will have no other contact with government officials than this. And it will convince them that if government isn’t their enemy, it’s certainly not their friend.

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