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CRASSUS/ROMNEY/TRUMP FOR EMPEROR: PART TWO (END)

In Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 28, 2017 at 12:05 am

Mitt Romney never had the chance to portray Marcus Licinius Crassus, once the wealthiest man in ancient Rome.

That part went to Laurence Oliver in the 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus.

Laurence Oliver as Marcus Crassus in “Spartacus”

The film depicted a slave revolt led by an escaped Thracian gladiator named Spartacus (Douglas). A revolt that Crassus played a major role in destroying.

Still, Romney–whose wealth is estimated at $250 million–has had the opportunity to play the role of a patrician in real life. And nowhere was it on better display than during a May 17, 2012 private fund-raising event.

Mitt Romney

The event–closed to the press–was nevertheless surreptitiously recorded on video and leaked to Mother Jones magazine.

And Romney’s comments about those Americans who do not share his wealth-given privileges proved fatal to his Presidential campaign.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, the “very rich” are “different from you and me.”

To observe that difference, it’s necessary only to compare the attitude of Marcus Crassus–as depicted in Spartacus–with that of Mitt Romney.

SENATOR GAIUS GRACCHUS: The Senate’s been in session all day over this business of Spartacus. We’ve got eight legions to march against him and no one to lead them.  The minute you offer the generals command…they start wheezing like winded mules….

CRASSUS: I take it the senate’s now offering command of the legions to me.

GRACCHUS: You’ve been expecting it.

CRASSUS:  I have. But have you thought how costly my services might be?

GRACCHUS: We buy everything else these days. No reason why we shouldn’t be charged for patriotism. What’s your fee?

CRASSUS:  My election as first consul, command of all the legions of ltaly, and the abolition of Senatorial authority over the courts.

GRACCHUS: Dictatorship.

CRASSUS: Order.

* * * * *

ROMNEY: The division of America, based on going after those who have been successful.

And then I quote Marco Rubio….I just said, Senator Rubio says–when he grew up here poor, that they looked at people that had a lot of wealth.

And his parents never once said, “We need some of what they have. They should give us some.”

Instead they said, “If we work hard and go to school, someday we might be able to have that.”

…And–and so my job is not to worry about those people [the 47% of Americans who allegedly don’t pay taxes and expect the government to assist the poor].

I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for for their lives.

* * * * *

In Spartacus, Crassus becomes dictator of Rome and brutally crushes the slave revolt. Then he aims his fury at his longtime political enemy, Gaius Gracchus, the democratic leader of the Roman Senate–and hero to the poor.

CRASSUS: Did you truly believe 500 years of Rome could so easily be delivered into the clutches of a mob? Already the bodies of 6,000 crucified slaves line the Appian Way….

As those slaves have died, so will your rabble if they falter one instant in loyalty to the new order of affairs. The enemies of the state are known. Arrests are in progress. The prisons begin to fill….

Yet upon you I have no desire for vengeance. Your property shall not be touched. You will retain the rank and title of Roman senator. A house, a farmhouse in Picenum has been provided for your exile. You may take your women with you.

GRACCHUS: Why am I to be left so conspicuously alive?

CRASSUS: Your followers are deluded enough to trust you. I intend that you shall speak to them tomorrow for their own good, their peaceful and profitable future.

From time to time thereafter, I may find it useful to bring you back to Rome to continue your duty to her to calm the envious spirit and the troubled mind. You will persuade them to accept destiny and order, and trust the gods!

* * * * *

ROMNEY: The 5 to 6 or 7 percent that we have to bring onto our side—they all voted for Barack Obama four years ago….And because they voted for him, they don’t want to be told that they were wrong, that he’s a bad guy, that he did bad things, that he’s corrupt.

Those people that we have to get, they want to believe they did the right thing, but he just wasn’t up to the task.

But…you and I, we spend our day with Republicans. We spend our days with people who agree with us. And these people are people who voted for him and don’t agree with us.

And so the things that animate us are not the things that animate them….

If it looks like I’m going to win, the markets will be happy. If it looks like the President’s going to win, the markets should not be terribly happy….

My own view is that if we win on November 6th, there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We’ll see capital come back and we’ll see—without actually doing anything—we’ll actually get a boost in the economy.

CRASSUS/ROMNEY/TRUMP FOR EMPEROR: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 27, 2017 at 12:06 am

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.

They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

–F. Scott Fitzgerald

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, may soon prove to be more than great entertainment. It may also turn out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

In the movie, Spartacus (Douglas), a Roman slave, entertains Marcus Crassus (Laurence Oliver) the richest man in Rome. He does so by fighting to the death as a gladiator.

While Spartacus and his fellow gladiator/friend, Draba, slash and stab at each other in the arena, Crassus idly chats with his fellow patrician crony, Marcus Glabrus.

Crassus has just secured Glabrus’ appointment as commander of the garrison of Rome. Glabrus is grateful, but curious as to how he did it.

After all, Gaius Gracchus, the democratic  leader of the Roman Senate, hates Crassus, and eagerly opposes his every move.

“I fought fire with oil,” says Crassus. “I purchased the Senate behind his back.”

Just as Crassus bought the Roman Senate in Spartacus, so, too, did Mitt Romney and his billionaire supporters try to buy the 2012 Presidential election.

Anyone who doubts this need only examine the controversial video of Romney addressing a private fund-raiser on May 17, 2012. The location: The home of controversial private equity manager Marc Leder, in Boca Raton, Florida.  

True, the Romney Presidential campaign ended in disaster. But that of Donald Trump ended in a victory for plutocrats–of which Trump is one. 

Thus, the values exhibited by Mitt Romney and warned about by F. Scott Fitzgerald now find their champions in Trump and a wealth-worshiping Congress.

In fact, it’s fascinating to compare some of the remarks of Olivier’s Crassus with some of those by Romney. Doing so will offer useful insights into the values of the super wealthy.

It is the wealthy, after all, who essentially own Congress–and who belong to it. Of the 535 men and women who control the House of Representatives and the Senate, more than half are worth $1 million or more

For both men are truly spokesmen for the privileged moneyed class–of which they themselves are pre-eminent members.

CRASSUS [speaking of Gaius Gracchus, the democratic leader of the Roman Senate]: For Gracchus, hatred of the patrician class is a profession, and not such a bad one, either. How else can one become master of the mob, and first senator of Rome?

Laurence Oliver as Marcus Crassus in “Spartacus”

* * * * *

ROMNEY:  What he’s [President Barack Obama] gonna do, by the way, is try and vilify me as someone who’s been successful. Or who’s– or who’s, you know, closed businesses or laid people off and this is an evil bad guy. And that may work.

Mitt Romney

* * * * *

CRASSUS [To Julius Caesar]: For years, your family and mine have been members of the Equestrian Order and the Patrician Party. servants and rulers of Rome. Why have you left us for Gracchus and the mob?

CAESAR:  I’ve left no one, least of all Rome. This much I’ve learned from Gracchus: Rome is the mob.

CRASSUS:  No!  Rome is an eternal thought in the mind of God.

CAESAR:  I had no idea you’d grown religious.

CRASSUS:  That doesn’t matter. If there were no gods at all, I’d revere them. If there were no Rome, I’d dream of her…as I want you to do. I want you to come back to your own kind. I beg you to.

CAESAR:  Is it me you want or is it the garrison [of Rome, which Caesar now commands]?

CRASSUS:  Both. Tell me frankly. If you were l, would you take the field against Spartacus?

CAESAR:  Of course.

CRASSUS:  Why?

CAESAR:  We have no other choice if we’re to save Rome.

CRASSUS:  Ah, Caesar!  Which Rome? Theirs…or ours?

* * * * *

ROMNEY:  Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right? There are 47% who are with him.

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

But that’s–it’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president [Barack Obama] no matter what.

And–and–I mean the President starts off with 48%, 49%, 40–or he….starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that’s what they sell every….four years.

MACHIAVELLI WAS RIGHT: DISTRUST THE RICH

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 26, 2017 at 12:05 am

As President Donald Trump prepares to drastically cut taxes on the wealthy (including himself) it’s well to remember the man whose name defines modern politics.

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman who has been called the father of modern political science, published his best-known work: The Prince.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Among the issues he confronted was how to preserve liberty within a republic. And key to this was mediating the eternal struggle between the wealthy and the poor and middle class.

Machiavelli deeply distrusted the nobility because they stood above the law. He saw them as a major source of corruption because they could buy influence through patronage, favors or nepotism.

Successful political leaders must attain the support of the nobility or general populace. But since these groups have conflicting interests, the safest course is to choose the latter.  

Writes Machiavelli:

….He who becomes prince by help of the [wealthy] has greater difficulty in maintaining his power than he who is raised by the populace. He is surrounded by those who think themselves his equals, and is thus unable to direct or command as he pleases. 

But one who is raised to leadership by popular favor finds himself alone, and has no one, or very  few, who   are not  ready  to  obey him. [And] it is impossible to satisfy the [wealthy] by fair dealing and without inflicting injury upon others, whereas it is very easy to satisfy the mass of the people in this way. 

Machiavelli warns that the general populace is more honest than the nobility–i.e., wealthy. The wealthy seek to oppress, while the populace wants to simply avoid oppression.

A political leader cannot protect himself against a hostile population, owing to their numbers, but he can against the hostility of the great, as they are but few.

The worst that a prince has to expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned, but from hostile nobles he has to fear not only desertion but their active opposition. And as they are more far seeing and more cunning, they are always in time to save themselves and take sides with the one who they expect will conquer. 

The prince is, moreover, obliged to live always with the same people, but he can easily do without the same nobility, being able to make and unmake them at any time, and improve their position or deprive them of it as he pleases.

Unfortunately, political leaders throughout the world–including the United States–have ignored this sage advice.

The results of this wholesale favoring of the wealthy and powerful have been brilliantly documented in a recent investigation of tax evasion by the world’s rich.

In 2012, Tax Justice Network, which campaigns to abolish tax havens, commissioned a study of their effect on the world’s economy.

The study was entitled, “The Price of Offshore Revisited: New Estimates for ‘Missing’ Global Private Wealth, Income, Inequality and Lost Taxes.”

http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_120722.pdf

The research was carried out by James Henry, former chief economist at consultants McKinsey & Co.  Among its findings:

  • By 2010, at least $21 to $32 trillion of the world’s private financial wealth had been invested virtually tax-­free through more than 80 offshore secrecy jurisdictions.
  • Since the 1970s, with eager (and often aggressive and illegal) assistance from the international private banking industry, private elites in 139 countries had accumulated $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of unrecorded offshore wealth by 2010.
  • This happened while many of those countries’ public sectors were borrowing themselves into bankruptcy, suffering painful adjustment and low growth, and holding fire sales of public assets.
  • The assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments.
  • The offshore industry is protected by pivate bankers, lawyers and accountants, who get paid handsomely to hide their clients’ assets and identities.
  • Bank regulators and central banks of most countries allow the world’s top tax havens and banks to hide the origins and ownership of assets under their supervision.
  • Although multilateral institutions like the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the IMF and the World Bank are supposedly insulated from politics, they have been highly compromised by the collective interests of Wall Street.
  • These regulatory bodies have never required financial institutions to fully report their cross-­border customer liabilities, deposits, customer assets under management or under custody.
  • Less than 100,000 people, .001% of the world’s population, now control over 30% of the world’s financial wealth.
  • Assuming that global offshore financial wealth of $21 trillion earns a total return of just 3% a year, and would have been taxed an average of 30% in the home country, this unrecorded wealth might have generated tax revenues of $189 billion per year.

Summing up this situation, the report noted: “We are up against one of society’s most well-­entrenched interest groups. After all, there’s no interest group more rich and powerful than the rich and powerful.”

Fortunately, Machiavelli has supplied timeless remedies to this increasingly dangerous situation:

  • Assume evil among men–and most especially among those who possess the greatest concentration of wealth and power.
  • Carefully monitor their activities–the way the FBI now regularly monitors those of the Mafia and major terrorist groups.
  • Ruthlessly prosecute the treasonous crimes of the rich and powerful–and, upon their conviction, impose severe punishment.

NO HANKIES FOR HILLARY: PART TWO (END)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on April 25, 2017 at 12:05 am

In The Destruction of Hillary Clinton, author Susan Bordo indicts a wide range of groups for Clinton’s failure to win the 2016 election.

Yet she refuses to put any blame on Clinton herself for a series of self-inflicted wounds.

Among these:

#5 Democrats and liberals fell prey to hubris. They dismissed Donald Trump as a bad joke: Surely voters would reject a bombastic, thrice-married “reality show” host who had filed for corporate bankruptcy four times.

Image result for Images of hubris

Many liberals believed Clinton would bury him at the polls: Blacks, women, youth and Hispanics will turn out huge for her. Democrats will retake the Senate, and maybe even retake the House.

They didn’t.

#6 The coalition that twice elected Barack Obama deserted Hillary Clinton.

Clinton did worse-than-expected among all the groups she was counting on to support her: Blacks, women, youth and Hispanics.

  • In 2012, Obama got 93% of the black vote; in 2016, Clinton got 88%.
  • In 2012, Obama got 55% of the women’s vote; in 2016, Clinton won 54%.
  • In 2012, Obama got 60% of the vote of those under 30; in 2016, Clinton got 54%.
  • In 2012, Obama got 71% of the Hispanic vote; in 2016, Clinton got 65%.

Clinton proved less popular even among whites than Obama: In 2012, Obama won 39% of their votes; in 2016, Clinton won 37%.

#7 Trump, adopting the role of a populist, appealed to blue-collar voters. Clinton offered a “love-your-CEO” economic plan–and suffered for it.

Trump visited “Rustbelt” states like Michigan and Pennsylvania and vowed to “bring back” jobs that had been lost to China, such as those in coal mining and manufacturing. Clinton didn’t deign to show up, assuming she had those states “locked up.”

Most economists agree that, in a globalized economy, such jobs are not coming back, no matter who becomes President.

Even so, voters backed the man who came to promise them a better future, and shunned the woman who didn’t come to promise them any future at all.

In May, Democratic pollster CeLinda Lake had warned Clinton to revamp her economic platform. Clinton ignored the advice.

“Democrats simply have to come up with a more robust economic frame and message,” Lake said after the election. “We’re never going to win those white, blue-collar voters if we’re not better on the economy. And 27 policy papers and a list of positions is not a frame. We can laugh about it all we want, but Trump had one.”

#8 Hillary Clinton gave only one memorable speech during the campaign.

This was the “basket of deplorables” speech, delivered at a New York fundraiser on September 9. It was the only Clinton speech to be widely quoted by Democrats and Republicans.

She divided Donald Trump’s supporters into two groups. The first group were the “deplorables,” for whom she showed open contempt:

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic–you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.

“He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people–now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks–they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”  

Related image

Hillary Clinton (Gage Skidmore photo)

But the second group, she said, consisted of poor, alienated Americans who rightly felt abandoned by their employers and their government:

“But….that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from.

“They don’t buy everything [Trump] says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.” 

#9 After giving this speech, Clinton threw away the good it might well have done her. 

First, the day after making the speech, she apologized for it: “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half–that was wrong.” 

Many of Trump’s followers were racists, sexists and xenophobes–who deserved condemnation, not apologies. By apologizing, she looked weak, indecisive, even cowardly.  

Second, having eloquently reached out to many of the men and women who were a prime constituency for Trump, she failed to offer an economic package to quickly and effectively address their vital needs for jobs and medical care.

The reason: She had failed to put one together long ago.

And all she had to offer now was boilerplate rhetoric, such as: “Education is the answer.”

Worst of all, Trump turned her speech against her, tweeting: “Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING to my supporters, millions of amazing, hard working people. I think it will cost her at the Polls!”

It did.

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As long as liberals like Susan Bordo continue to blame everyone else–and refuse to correct their own weaknesses–they will continue to remain a minority political party.

HEROES: NOT WHAT THEY USED TO BE

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 21, 2017 at 12:20 am

Steven Pressfield is the bestselling author of several novels on ancient Greece.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

 Steven Pressfield

In Gates of Fire (1998) he celebrated the immortal battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held at bay a vastly superior Persian army for three days.

In Tides of War (2000) he re-fought the ancient world’s 25-year version of the Cold War between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta.

n The Virtues of War (2004) he chronicled the military career of Alexander the Great–through the eyes of the conqueror himself.

And in The Afghan Campaign (2006) he accompanied Alexander’s army as it waged a vicious, three-year counterinsurgency war against native Afghans.

Besides being an amateur historian of armed conflict, Pressfield is a former Marine. His novel, Gates of Fire, has been adopted by the Marine Corps as required reading.

So Pressfield knows something about the art–and horrors–of war. And about the decline of heroism in the modern age.

Consider the events of November 9, 2012.

On that date, General David Petraeus suddenly resigned his position as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He had held this just slightly more than a year.

The reason: The revelation of–and his admission to–an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, the woman who had written an admiring biography of him called All In.

Ironically, this happened to be the same day that “Skyfall”–the latest James Bond film–opened nationwide.

Since Bond made his first onscreen appearance in 1962’s “Dr. No,” England’s most famous spy has bedded countless women.  And has become internationally famous as the ultimate ladykiller.

But real-life doesn’t quite work the same way.

What is permitted–and even celebrated–in a fictional spy is not treated the same way in the real world of espionage.

Prior to this, Petraeus had been the golden boy of the American Army–the best-known and most revered general since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

David  Petraeus

The man who

  • had given 37 years of his life to protecting the nation;
  • had rewritten the book on how to fight counterinsurgency wars;
  • had turned around the stagnated war in Iraq;
  • had presided over the winding down of the war in Afghanistan.

As President Barack Obama put it:

“General Petraeus had an extraordinary career.  He served this country with great distinction in Iraq, in Afghanistan and as head of the CIA.

“I want to emphasize that from my perspective, at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service.  We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done.

“And my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”

It’s why Pressfield candidly admits he prefers the ancient world to the present:

“If I’m pressed to really think about the question, I would answer that what appeals to me about the ancient world as opposed to the modern is that the ancient world was pre-Christian, pre-Freudian, pre-Marxist, pre-consumerist, pre-reductivist.

“It was grander, it was nobler, it was simpler. You didn’t have the notion of turn-the-other-cheek. You had Oedipus but you didn’t have the Oedipus complex. It was political but it was not politically correct.”

To illustrate what he meant, Pressfield cited this passage from Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, on how ancient-world politics took on its own tone of McCarthyism:  

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member.  

To think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward. Any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character. Ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.

As if speaking on the scandal involving David Petraeus, Pressfield states:

“Our age has been denatured. The heroic has been bled out of it.

“The callings of the past––he profession of arms, the priesthood, the medical and legal professions, politics, the arts, journalism, education, even motherhood and fatherhood–every one has been sullied and degraded by scandal after scandal.

“We’re hard up for heroes these days, and even harder up for conceiving ourselves in that light. That’s why I’m drawn to the ancient world. It’s truer, in my view, to how we really are.

“The ancient world has not been reductified and deconstructed as ours has; it has not been robbed of all dignity. They had heroes then. There was such a thing, truly, as the Heroic Age. Men like Achilles and Leonidas really did exist.

“There was such a thing, truly, as heroic leadership. Alexander the Great did not command via satellite or remote control.  He rode into battle at the head of his Companion cavalry; he was the first to strike the foe.”

Today, generals command armies while stationed thousands of miles from the front. And they face more danger from heart attacks than enemy bullets.  

And commanding American generals is Donald Trump, a five-times draft-dodger who equates avoiding sexually-transmitted diseases with surviving the Vietnam war: “It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”

TAKING ON KGB AIRWAYS: PART EIGHT (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 20, 2017 at 12:08 am

Even if you feel you have an airtight case against an airline and want to sue, remember this: The vast majority of cases–civil and criminal–are settled outside of court.

In civil cases especially, judges strongly urge both sides to reach a compromise rather than duke it out in court. And both sides are usually willing to do this, since there’s no telling how a jury might rule.

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

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The Lady Justice

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

A minus is that such cases are extremely complex and must be handled by experienced attorneys.  Typically, federal courts are thought to be more favorable for defendants, and state courts more favorable for plaintiffs. Many class actions are filed initially in state court. The defendant will frequently try to remove the case to federal court.

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

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

But the most far-reaching reforms can emerge only through Congress. And this can happen only if Americans demand that their representatives create passenger rights through long-overdue legislation.

Image result for Images of United States Capitol

United States Capitol Building

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

Examples:

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

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

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

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

  1. Make their specific demands known; and
  2. Bluntly warn: “Support this–or look for another job.”

Only such sustained action will counter the legalized bribes (known as “campaign contributions) the airlines offer to members of Congress.      

There is new reason to hope that long-overdue reforms may be coming.  

On April 9, police dragged Dr. David Dao, bloodied and screaming, off his United Airlines flight at Chicago O’Hare Airport.

His crime?  Refusing to give up his seat for a commuting crew member.

He suffered a broken nose, the loss of two front teeth and a concussion.

Dao’s mistreatment was captured on cellphone video taken by several passengers. Posted on Youtube and on national newscasts, it sparked a massive outcry.

To the horror of company officials, United Continental Holdings stock quickly lost an estimated $255 million to $1 billion. Many passengers cut up their United-Chase credit cards and frequent flyer member cards. Others swore to never again fly United.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called for a suspension to the widespread practice of overbooking: 

“To have somebody pay for a ticket, reserve a seat, be seated and then dragged off the plane physically by law enforcement officers at the direction of United–it’s outrageous,” Christie told CNN’s “New Day.”

Yet Dao has plenty of company. In 2016, more than 475,000 passengers who were bumped off American domestic flights–usually due to overbooking.

It’s standard practice for airlines to sell more tickets than there are seats. “Airlines overbook because people don’t show up for flights and they don’t want to go with empty seats,” said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com.  

When a flight is overbooked, federal Department of Transportation (DOT) rules require an airline to first ask passengers to voluntarily give up their seats. Airlines can choose the amount or type of compensation.  It’s usually a gift card or travel voucher for another flight.

If you are kicked off a flight due to overbooking, you can sue for more money if you believe the compensation offered wasn’t sufficient. If you intend to sue, don’t accept any flight vouchers or cash offered by the airline.

And what gives airlines the right to virtually operate as KGB agents? Consumer advocate Ralph Nader puts it thus:

“Because the contract of carriage, which is on the [United] website, is 67,000 words long and fine print, and it takes away the rights to be assured that when you have a confirmed reservation and you’re in the seat, you can stay in the seat—total unbridled discretion by the airline to throw you off the plane.”  

And every other airline has a similar “contract of carriage.” These are written by airline lawyers and are entirely biased toward airlines–not customers.

Above all, remember: Airlines are run by corporations. Their foremost concern is not your comfort or even safety as a passenger. It’s with further enriching their overpaid key executives.

You must be willing to stand up for your own rights–because the CEOs running KGB Airways don’t care about them.

TAKING ON KGB AIRWAYS: PART SEVEN (OF EIGHT)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 19, 2017 at 12:05 am

There’s a good chance you won’t be able to resolve your problem with the airline.

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

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

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

So as advised in Part Four of this series: Don’t waste your time with Customer Service smallfry.

Go directly to the topmost officials of the airline and make it clear that it’s in their best interests to resolve your problem. Then, if you can’t find a workable solution, file your complaint with as many consumer-protection websites as possible.  

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

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

Assistant Administrator for System Safety ASY-100
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20591
Phone: 1-866-835-5322

Click here: Contact the Aviation Safety Hotline 

If your complaint involves security, contact the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). They can be reached at (866) 2890-6793 or at their website of  Click here: Transportation Security Administration |.

You can also file a complaint with one or more consumer complaint websites. 

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

http://www.pissedconsumer.com/ Pissed Consumer (complaints only)

http://www.measuredup.com/ Measured Up (“Customers Review / Businesses Reply / Everybody Wins”)

http://www.thesqueakywheel.com/ The Squeaky Wheel (submits your complaint to google)

https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/ Federal Trade Commission (does not resolve individual consumer complaints)

http://hissingkitty.com/ Hissing Kitty (posts your complaint on Google, Yahoo, and Bing)

http://www.airlinecomplaints.org/ Airline Complaints (complaints only)

http://www.airsafe.com/complain/complain.htm Air Safe (“critical information for the traveling public”)

http://www.consumeraffairs.com/travel/airlines.html Consumer Affairs (complaints only)

A final option is to sue the airline.

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

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

  • When they’re playing games;
  • When they’ve broken a contract;
  • When they’re being dishonest;
  • When they’re ignoring you;
  • When they aren’t listening to reason.

Elliott’s webpage contains a wealth of practical advice for those who are fed up with of airline arrogance.  It can be accessed thus:

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

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

Click here: Lies the Airlines Tell Us – ABC News

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

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

Each approach has its own series of pluses and minuses.

One option is to do so in small claims court.

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

Another plus: It will cost you far less to represent yourself than it will cost the airline to send a representative. If you file in California and the airline is headquartered in New York, it will be expensive for them to send a rep to attend the proceedings.

If the airline fails to send someone as its representative–which is highly unlikely–it loses by default.

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

Another minus is that each state sets a different amount you can win in damages.To learn about the rules applying to small claims courts in your state, consult the following link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAKING ON KGB AIRWAYS: PART SIX (OF EIGHT)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 18, 2017 at 12:54 am

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

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

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

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

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

Product Details

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

Among the subjects she covers–in detail–are:

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

My own tips for writing a successful complaint letter are:

  • Remove any vulgar or profane words. 
  • Don’t make sweeping accusations: “Your agency is a waste.” 
  • Stick to facts you know can be proved: The who, what, when, where,how and why of good reporting.
  • Don’t attribute motives to people you’ve had problems with.  You don’t know why someone did what he did.
  • Cite the names and titles of any airline employees who (1) witnessed the reason for your complaint, or (2) were witnesses to it.
  • Show how the failure of the official to address your problem reflects badly on the company: “This not the level of service your ads would lead customers to expect.”
  • If there is a specific action the airline can take to redress your complaint, be sure to mention it.  (You can be so angry when making a complaint that you forget to say what you want the company to do to resolve it.)
  • Be reasonable and realistic in what you ask for. 
  • If you want reimbursement for expenses you had to make (such as hotel lodgings) owing to the airline’s fault, then provide copies of receipts.
  • Emphasize your desire to resolve the complaint amicably and privately within the company.
  • If necessary, note any regulatory agencies that can make life rough for the company if your complaint isn’t resolved. 
  • Cite the applicable law(s) under which it can be sued: “According to the Passenger Bill of Rights….” Make certain the airline knows you expect a reply within a certain length of time: “I would appreciate your response within the next 10 business days.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related image

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

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

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

! ! ! WARNING ! ! !

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

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

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

Why?  Two reasons:

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

But if resolving the problem isn’t possible within the airline, there are two more options available.

TAKING ON KGB AIRWAYS: PART FIVE (OF EIGHT)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 17, 2017 at 1:36 am

If you have a complaint against an airline, don’t waste your time with low-level Customer Service reps.

If you want action, seek out those who are empowered to make it happen.

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

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

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

This should arm you with:

  • The name of its CEO; Its mailing address;
  • Its phone number for reaching its top executives; and
  • Its website and/or email address.

Below are listed:

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

Remember: The names provided below will not stay permanent. You must do your own research to ensure you’re reaching the right person.

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

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

AMERICAN AIRLINES

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

Robert Isom – President 

Mail:

P.O. Box 619616 

DFW Airport,

TX 75261-9616     

Phone:  (817) 963-123 

Click here: American Airlines Board of Directors              

DELTA AIRLINES

Edward H. Bastian – Chief Executive Officer 

Francis S. Blake – Chairman of Delta’s Board of Directors                     

Click here: Delta Air Lines Newsroom – Leadership           

Mail:                  

Delta Air Lines, Inc.                         

1030 Delta Blvd.   

Atlanta, Georgia 30354

Phone: (404) 715-2600            

SPIRIT AIRLINES

Robert Fornaro – President and CEO                 

John Bendoraitis – Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer               

Ted Christie – Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer               

Address:                      

2800 Executive Way            

Miramar, FL  33025             

Phone:  (954) 447-7920           

Email:    http://www.spiritair.com               

JETBLUE AIRWAYS                          

Robin Hayes – President and Chief Executive Officer             

Mike Elliott – Executive Vice President, People                      

Steve Preist – Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer                   

JetBlue Airways Corporation Corporate Office | Headquarters

118-29 Queens Blvd.                   

Forest Hills, NY 11375             

Website:  http://www.jetblue.com               

Phone:  (718) 286-7900                    

Toll Free: (800) 538-2583                       

UNITED AIRLINES

Oscar Munoz – Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, United Continental Holdings, Inc                

Gerry Laderman – Senior Vice President, Finance, Procurement and Treasurer

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

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

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

Mail:

P.O. Box 66100                       

Chicago, IL 60666                        

Email:  InvestorRelations@united.com                                      

Phone (general): (800) 864-8331                    

Phone Investor Relations: (312) 997-8610                           

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

ALASKA AIRLINES                                    

Bradley D. Tilden – Chairman and CEO     

Ben Minicucci – President and Chief Operating Officer    

Brandon Pederson – Executive Vice President Finance and Chief Financial Officer

Corporate Offices  

P.O. Box 68900                           

Seattle, WA 98168                       

Phone: (206-433-3200                           

Click here: Executive Leadership – Alaska Airlines                                  

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES                                   

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

Thomas Nealon – President  

Tammy Romo – Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President    

Click here: Board of Directors – Southwest Airlines                          

Southwest Airlines Corporate Headquarters Address:                                  

2702 Love Field Drive                 

Dallas, Texas 75235                           

Telephone: (214) 792-4223                             

AIRTRAN                         

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

FRONTIER AIRLINES  

Barry F. Biffle – President and Chief Executive Officer     

Ashok Shah – Vice President of Finance                           

Click here: Frontier Airlines, Inc.: CEO and Executives – Bloomberg

Address:                          

Frontier Airlines    

7001 Tower Road      

Denver, CO 80249    

Phone: (720) 374-4200   

HAWAIIAN AIRLINES          

Mark B. Dunkerley – President and Chief Executive Officer     

Jeff Helfrick – Vice President Customer Service           

Jay Schaefer – President and Treasurer                          

Click here: Board of Directors | Hawaiian Airlines 

Headquarters Address:    

Hawaiian Airlines                                               

3375 Koapaka Street, G-350                                   

Honolulu, HI 96819                                     

Telephone: 808-835-3700 (Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. HST)

ALLEGIANT AIR             

Maurice J. Gallagher, Jr. – Chairman and Chief Executive Officer       

John Redmond – President         

D. Scott Sheldon – Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer               

Click here: Corporate Governance – Board of Directors | Investor Relations | Allegiant Air       

Head office:                              

Allegiant Air Corporate Office           

8360 South Durango Drive    

Las Vegas, Nevada, 89113           

Phone number: +1 702 851 7300       

VIRGIN AMERICA

Donald J. Carty – Chairman of the Board      

Samuel K. Skinner – Vice Chairman of the Board      

Stacy J. Smith – Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer  

Click here: Virgin America – Corporate Governance  

Address:                                

3555 Airport Blvd.      

Burlingame, CA 94010     

Phone: (877) 359-8474      

Email:   http://www.virginamerica.com      

Your best bet:  Contact the CEO–as the highest-ranking officer, he can’t claim his hands are tied by superiors.     

Next best: Contact the Chief Financial Officer–anyone charged with company profits will be instantly concerned about a problem that can cost big money.  

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

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

TAKING ON KGB AIRWAYS: PART FOUR (OF EIGHT)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 14, 2017 at 1:25 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These essentially boil down to two:

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

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

There are two reasons for this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reason? He had not filed the claim within the company’s stipulated “standard 24-hour timeframe.” Carroll turned to his musical roots for a remedy. 

He wrote a song, “United Breaks Guitars,” and turned it into a music video which he posted on YouTube and iTunes in July, 2009.

Click here: United Breaks Guitars – YouTube

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with the first: The phone.

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

Don’t do it.

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

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

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

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

This is the single most important lesson in bureaucracy-busting: If you want action, seek out those who are empowered to make it happen.

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