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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Telephone Trees and Other Horrors of the 21st Century

I will turn 75 this September so, readers, let me take you back to a world from the last century where things worked like this: 

1.  When you called the phone number of a business or governmental agency a real person answered your call and promptly directed you to the appropriate area of the entity.  This real person spoke English in a clear fashion and could be reasoned with if there was a problem.  I know this is hard to believe, but try.

2.  Life did not revolve around a little machine that you were required to carry with you at all times lest you miss important messages (emails, texts, popup warnings) or be stranded without entertainment.  If you were going to be detained and wanted something to amuse yourself you carried a physical book.  I know this sounds crazy.

3.  You were not exposed to unwanted advertisements in every direction you turned and particularly not when trying to do something important like seeking help in an emergency or troubling situation.  It would have been considered rude to begin a contact with a prospective customer by forcing him/her to first view and then delete an ad.  Businesses doing so would have been shunned into bankruptcy.

But what I miss most about these “good old days” was that the entities with whom you had dealings were very good (on the whole—there were, of course, exceptions) with listening to your problem and suggesting a solution.  Nowadays when you face a problem, say a difficulty caused by your television cable company, there are a number of gloomy steps you can anticipate before you ever get to the final person who might be able to help you.  You can bet you’ll spend something close to an hour before there's any chance of a resolution.

Consider my dilemma of last Saturday.

As a certified Chicago Cubs fan since 1968 (see Related Posts below for the evidence) I have been thrilled since the Cubs finally won the World Series (after a drought lasting since 1908).  My enthusiasm led me this year to signing up (at a cost of over $170) with Spectrum for access to the Major League Baseball channels that broadcast most games on a daily basis.  Every day I hunt up and record the Cubs game and DVR it so that I can watch it at my leisure later in that day or the next, skipping commercials and rain delays and replays and conferences on the mound, etc.  It takes me about two hours to watch a game, and faster if the Cubs get far ahead or behind.

Every so often the game I have chosen fails to record, but this is rare, or was until this past weekend when for two days in a row scheduled recordings failed to materialize. 

With considerable dread (since I have had these dismal telephone battles with Spectrum in the past) I put in a call to Spectrum and encountered the usual telephone tree, starting with a cheery recorded female voice asking me to answer a series of questions (“Is this call in connection with the account listed for the phone number you have used to call us today?”).  I endured various mechanical queries until I was given choices for the next step, and I chose “Cable Box,” hoping it would be right.  Reaching the next branch on the tree I was told there would be a wait but that they would call me back if I wanted them to, so I chose that option and hung up.  Ten minutes later a real person in the voice of a woman who sounded like it had been a long day for her asked me to describe my problem.

I launched into an explanation of all of the above, adding that I was paying extra for this service and it was annoying to have it fail me, and then asking how it could be fixed.

“You’ve reached the wrong department,” was her laconic response.  “Let me transfer you to the television branch.”  Trying not to snarl I replied, “Please,” and waited through about two minutes of flute solo until a young man with a confident voice asked how he could help me.  I took a deep breath and recreated my story once again, with the same plea about wasted money, and then waited for his expertise.  “Sounds like you should have rebooted,” he commented dryly.  This annoyed me.  I have in the past rebooted the cable system when told to do so, but didn’t know it was expected of me for any and all problems.  The man smugly replied, “Oh, you should reboot every two weeks to keep the system running properly.”  I felt anger rising in me.  “And how would I have known this?” I asked.  He ignored by question and merely repeated, “It’s just what you should be doing.  Of course we could send out a man to look over the problem in a day or two, but if you’ll just reboot regularly that should solve the problem.”  Suppressing words I first learned in my Navy days and tamping down the urge to demand that some of my wasted money be refunded, I muttered that I would try it and clicked off. 

I did reboot and since then have successfully recorded one game, but I’m still pissed.  Now I must train myself to reboot every two weeks to solve problems that Spectrum itself creates, and (like most consumers in 2018 I'm resigned to accept that it was all my fault) I will probably adapt to this regimen.  I abandoned up any attempt to press Spectrum for a refund of some of my money.  The amount is too small and even though I could make them do it (I’m a Professor of Law and a nationally known expert on consumer legal rights) it would take more effort than it's worth.  Pursuing this with the smug young man I'd been talking to would have led me further into the Spectrum telephone maze before I got to their legal department and explained how easy it would be for me to file a complaint in the Small Claims Court and the joy it would give me to put a garnishment on Spectrum’s bank account if the company didn’t promptly pay up.  I have done such things in the past when sufficiently angered, but recovering, say, $4.84 wouldn’t be a wise expenditure of my time, however pleasurable it would be to annoy Spectrum in this way.  You have to pick your battles, so I surrendered on this one.

But consider what sheep we’ve all become in 2018.  The corporations with whom we must deal (and governmental agencies, etc.) really don’t care if their consumer complaint systems are efficient from the consumer’s point of view.  Their major concern is to set up a system convenient (and cheap as possible) for the company.  The electronic voices get no pay and don’t drain corporate coffers in the way human operators would.  And once most people realize that there is no simple solution that will help, many of them will just live with the agony rather than spend an inappropriate amount of time scaling that telephonic tree, wasting a productive part of the day.  Apparently there’s no profit in making things easy for your customers once you’ve hooked them.

So, damn it, I’m a sheep because I can’t be anything else if I want to watch those Cub games.


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Related Posts:

"My Sad Tale of Being a Chicago Cubs Fan," May 27, 2015;

“My Battle with Sony To Get a Refund on a DVD Player”;

"The Payment-In-Full Check: A Powerful Legal Maneuver," April 11, 2011;

"I Threaten To Sue Apple Over an iPad Cover," April 8, 2011;

Monday, July 2, 2018

Has Trump Taken Over the Supreme Court?

No.  Not yet.  But he’s close. 

It was always improbable that this overblown ego-driven man would run for president, win the office, and then let go of his controls (if there were ever any) completely.  Biographers of his presidency all concur that Trump himself was very surprised by winning.  His original plan was to lose and then capitalize on his loss in big financial and superstar ways.  But win he did!  And, in spite of a wife who only married him for his money and wept when she learned she would have to be the FLOTUS (a term she had to learn as one of many in any immigrant’s struggle with the complexities of the English language), Trump was delighted by the opportunity to run the world!  What a coup!

The man doesn’t play by the rules.  He never understood them.  He doesn’t want to understand them.  For Donald J. Trump it’s okay to be someone who routinely takes advantage of others.  A few bad almost-broke periods aside, DJT has always had money and happily gulped down more even if he had to bribe officials, skirt the law, take money from his followers by lying to them about the frauds he was committing (see Trump University).  It didn’t matter when he was caught bragging about grabbing women’s pussies—hell, he could get away with that even in a world where such things were ruining the careers of powerful and surprised men who did exactly the same thing.  Donald Trump is above consequences!

Plus he doesn’t need to know what other people’s rules are.  He makes his own.  Donald Trump can read, but he doesn’t.  His staff tried to give him memos, and he wouldn’t read them.  There is no evidence he has ever read a book from cover to cover, and that would include “The Art of the Deal,” which was completely written by the man listed as “coauthor” and who now is ashamed of it, donating his profits to charities.

When Trump was first installed in office I (stupidly) assumed he’d change: stop tweeting, act presidential, behave with a new sense of responsibility.

Instead he set about establishing himself as king of the world.  Why not?  His whole life has been improbable.  Becoming the 45th President of the United States was merely the next step.  Now he can repeal all the things about government he doesn’t like, which is most everything, and run the country from the Oval Office.  He doesn't need a Congress.  Hell, they are so divided they haven’t done anything for almost a decade.  Yes, the judiciary has been a pesky problem.  Annoyingly they think they’re better than him, more important than Donald Trump, overseeing his programs and stopping Trumpian progress.

Well the solution to that is to put his men (and the occasional woman) on the bench.  Make them young, very conservative, willing to kiss his hand, and let them line up behind him like other federal officials.  Neil Gorsuch almost was yanked as his first choice for the Supreme Court when he (rashly) stated he wasn’t necessarily beholden to Donald as the confirmation process was going on, but time has shown that he’s behind his nominator all the way, case by case, day by day.  And Trump has been filling the lower federal courts with similar men (and the occasional woman) in large numbers.  

I’ve written recently about how the possible retirement of the swing-voter on the United State Supreme Court, Anthony Kennedy, might upset everything by retiring as soon as the Court’s term ended in June, and, damn it, that’s what he did.  Justice Kennedy, historically in the middle, with four liberals on one side and four conservatives on the other, has been the most powerful judge in the world for years now.  He wrote opinions supporting gay rights and pro-choice, but then held in Citizens United that corporations were “people” too and had the right to contribute billions to electing whomever they wanted in all U.S. elections.  But if Kennedy had held on for only one more year Trump couldn’t have replaced him with a true steadfast conservative.  However, citing a need in his old age (he’s 81) to spend time with his family, he ignored that issue.  Making it easier was that Trump and his advisors have been courting Kennedy for some time, almost begging him to retire now, before the November elections, and assuring him that his replacement would be a stellar one, probably one of his former clerks like Neil Gorsuch; see  Surprisingly we now learn that Kennedy’s son was a major financial player in helping Trump get loans in bad times, which caused eyebrows to be raised when it recently came to light.  At the end of Trump's first State of the Union Address as he was leaving the room he shook hands with the members of the Supreme Court present and casually said to Kennedy, "Say hello to your son---he's a good man."  Hmm.

Trump and Kennedy

Why couldn’t Trump have replaced Kennedy with a true conservative if he’d have waited to retire next year?  Because the Democrats are likely to do very well indeed in the November election, possibly taking over both the House and the Senate, and there is no way the new Senate would have confirmed a Scalia (who believed gays to be sinners and abortion murder).  Trump would have been forced to nominate a moderate or leave the ninth seat on the Court vacant.

Ah well, that didn’t happen. Now Trump will be extra careful to pick someone who, once on the Court, won’t suddenly find a heart and vote for liberal plaintiffs (as Justice David Souter did after the first Bush nominated him).  He has already lined up some possible nominees who will vote for whatever result pleases their president, making sure they frequently get to dine at the White House with the Great Man.

What's next?  Well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was once willing to delay things for eight months when Obama nominated a liberal for the Court, but these days he wants immediate confirmation of whatever far right conservative Trump picks (someone Trump insists must be young enough to be on the Court for 40+ years).  But McConnell has only a 51-49 majority, and if that majority doesn’t hold the nomination won’t go through.  McConnell is hoping John McCain might be healthy enough to vote for the nominee, and for the two female Senators who are pro-choice to be kept in the fold even if the nominee has a tattoo on his chest saying “Roe v. Wade is Dust!  McConnell might also dream that three Democratic senators in states Trump carried by huge margins might be afraid to buck Trump’s nominee, but their Democratic base would be very unhappy if they voted to confirm a knuckle-dragger for the Supreme Court.

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One depressing thought: if the Senate vote on Trump's new nominee is tied 50-50, Vice President Pence will enjoy breaking the tie.  Sad. 

And here’s an even sadder thought: if Hilary had won the presidency we would already have a liberal majority on the Court and Kennedy’s retirement would have merely added to that majority, making it 6 -3.

The next few months are going to be a political maelstrom.  Stay tuned.

Related Posts:

“A Supreme Court Crisis: The Momentous Retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy,” June 6, 2018;

“Trump University: A Fraudster for President”? March 10, 2016;