Monthly Archives: November 2018

Black Friday & American Commerce at Work (herein of Amazon, Best Buy, CVS & Whole Foods)

Black Friday is here and America is ready for a shoppingpalooza to end all paloozas. It seems like a good time to remind everyone, with full expectation of being ignored, about how the American shopping experience can sometimes go wrong.

First, Amazon. The funny (in a perverse way) part. I have written twice about Amazon’s practice of waste in its inappropriate packaging choices. https://bit.ly/2PQ7VTp and https://bit.ly/2DVS4fR That part is not funny. Anyway, I was slightly surprised by the weight of the package that arrived supposedly containing a precious order of Nature’s great food: popcorn. But I had ordered a box of six boxes of six packs each, so it was, I thought, possible that popcorn could weigh that much. The item is depicted here:

Delicious! Since I had foolishly consumed our supply some days before, I was delighted to receive this package.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the outer shipping box, and saw inside a box bearing the brand name of PopSecret wedged tightly into the outer box. Yes! Amazon is doing better! So, I slit open the top of the inner PopSecret-labeled box and saw this:

As best I can tell, this product is: Oracal 631 Matte Vinyl Roll 12 Inches by 150 feet – Black by Oracal

I would have understood if Amazon had shipped the wrong brand of popcorn or maybe even if it had sent another food product altogether. But Vinyl Tape instead of popcorn? Is this stuff arrayed on the shelves together? Does no one check these things before they ship?

We will never know the answer to those compelling questions. But we do know is that Amazon knows a bad move when it sees one and, as I have experienced in past product mix-ups, it advised me to just keep vinyl tape and it would ship the popcorn at no extra charge. Of course, the estimated delivery date is a week from the arrival of the tape, making a slight mockery of the Prime delivery for which I pay an annual fee. And the product listing for the popcorn now shows “Currently Unavailable,” so we could be cruising toward a losing situation. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I have laid in a supply of popcorn from the local market.

Moving on to something more concerning, I recently visited the local Best Buy on Broadway in New York City. Its website showed it had a software package for photo editing that I wanted to buy. And, I wanted to buy it right now! After reviewing the package for compatibility issues. So, I walked the half mile or so to the store, asked the young man on the phone at the information booth in front whether the software was downstairs. He nodded yes and continued his conversation.

To make a long story shorter, I walked around each floor of the store twice. No photo editing software to be seen. I did see one, yes, one other customer who was engrossed in playing with one of the electronic devices. I saw at least six Best Buy employees moving around the store, some of them speaking into walkie-talkies. I thought I would trick one of them into asking if I needed help by spending some time with the most expensive cameras. I showed serious interest, looking through view finders and manipulating the dials. No takers. Bottom line: I walked around the store acting like a confused consumer looking for something specific and not one of the employees asked if they could help me find something. I left.

I don’t know where the management was. Maybe one of the Best Buy people I saw was the management. In any case Best Buy, which is in direct competition with Amazon and many others for mostly commodity-type products, is running a losing operation based on this admittedly small sample size of its performance. Maybe I have it backwards though; the store was empty because everyone but me knows how bad the service is. Time will tell.

Now to get serious for a moment. A good while back, I wrote a post about a service failure related to a product branded by CVS Pharmacies  https://bit.ly/2DTcAgY

That little essay concluded with this:

“One thing is certainly true. I will not be ignored. And, thus, we are here, using the only tool at my disposal to try to shame CVS into responding to my documented complaint about a product sold under its brand. This is not the end of this saga but the beginning. I intend to file complaints in the near future with the Better Business Bureau and such other consumer protection agencies in New York City as I can find. CVS, this could all have been avoided if you had just acted responsibly.”

Not being one to make idle threats, I did what I had said and, finally, the sleeping giant awakened. Recall that I first contacted CVS in June 2018 about the damage caused by its product that had melted against the bathroom wall. My complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs apparently got their attention. A CVS message to the BBB took the issue back to Medline Industries that handles such things.

After the usual form apologies and assurances about how seriously they take the quality of their products and “value others input,” Medline, in October,  told me this was the first such complaint and that “the issue is considered to be isolated.” Then,

“It is likely that the issue occurred due to harsh conditions such as high heat and humidity in the storage area. All sanitary napkins, diapers and most food products are printed using the same technology that is used for this product and under normal conditions this issue does not occur. It is our recommendation that packages such as this should be kept in a drawer or cabinet where the exposure of the product to harsh conditions is minimal.”

My English translation of the Medline message:

“We don’t deny the problem occurred, but it’s your own fault because of the “likely … harsh conditions” in your bathroom (high heat and humidity) which are not “normal conditions” for a bathroom so you need to seal the product in a heat and humidity proof drawer or cabinet which we are sure, without investigation, you can readily find to protect this product that cost less than $3.00. While we would have to recognize there is no warning about “harsh conditions” on the package, you are surely aware of the famous old saying, “buyer beware,” so take ownership of your trust, however misplaced, in our branded products and go have yourself a lovely day in the harsh conditions in your bathroom.”

Oh, yes, CVS did not refund the price of the product, presumably because the whole thing was my fault for maintaining “harsh conditions” in my bathroom. Nothing more to say, except that this decision has cost and will continue to cost CVS a vastly larger, though in the scheme of its business, an insignificant loss, in diverted business to its competitor at … Amazon.

To end on a more positive note, in keeping with the season, we recently ordered, in person at the local Whole Foods store, a cake for an event. We wrote on a note the message that was to be iced on the cake. It was not a hugely expensive cake but it was a nice one for our small group. We were told to pick it up at 10 am on the date of the event. We arrived on time and were met with “what cake?”

It took all of two seconds for the assistant manager, who happened to be in the bakery section that day, to direct the staff to prepare the cake immediately, with the prescribed icing and “there will be no charge.”

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how it is done. It’s called customer service. No arguments, no excuses, just fixed it. Done and done.

Have a happy holiday weekend. Shop until you drop, if you must. Keep your guard up and stay safe.

Real News Roundup of Important Stories – No.1

The volume of astonishing stories coming out of, mainly, Washington DC is so large that it is impossible to keep up with thoughtful posts about each of them. This is frustrating because, of course, I have a lot of opinions to share, which is a main reason I write this blog at all.

I have therefore decided to publish periodic roundups of the most compelling stories in summary form. I have a large file of old stories and will just go through them in reverse order, newest first and so on. Of course, that symmetry will shortly and repeatedly be broken by the avalanche of new extraordinary tales. The items to be covered in this series are usually ones that don’t require a lot of comment or analysis.

First up, the incumbent Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Mississippi has just “joked” that it would be a good idea to make it harder for liberal college students in Mississippi to vote. https://wapo.st/2BaULYa This har-har knee-slapper follows on the heels of her remark a few days ago that if the host of her political event invited her to a public hanging, she’d be in the front row. Lady just doesn’t know when to keep her racist mouth shut. Har-har.

Meanwhile, Betsy DeVos, the know-nothing Secretary of Education has nothing better to do regarding the national education system than worry about the rights of young college men accused of sexual assault. According to reports, her new plan would narrow the definition of sexual harassment and mandate investigations of sexual assault only if the conduct happened on campus or other institutional sites and was reported to campus officials. The accused’s representative would be allowed to cross-examine the accuser. According to USAToday https://bit.ly/2OMsXwX , the new rules would create three categories of potentially actionable harassment. The new one is:

Unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity.

In addition, quid pro quo harassment, such as a school employee conditioning an educational benefit on a person’s sexual conduct and outright sexual assault. I am waiting for someone to define “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive.” Maybe it’s in the proposed rule somewhere. Among the “supportive measures” available are “academic course adjustments, counseling, no-contact orders, dorm room reassignment … and class schedule changes for either the accused or the accuser.” If so, this means that the victim of sexual harassment could be forced to take those steps to avoid further contact with the, in this case presumed guilty, harasser. Curious way to treat a victim of sexual harassment. Maybe more about this another day.

About a week ago, white nationalists held a “rally” outside Ward, Arkansas. Photographs of the handiwork of these upstanding “Americans” may be seen here if you have the stomach for it – you could easily confuse these with photos from Nazi Germany but these are homegrown boys: https://reut.rs/2K1KGzG Nothing to add here. The photos say it all. Except that Donald Trump and the Republican Party are fairly chargeable with inviting these things to publicly assert themselves.

In other developments stemming from the Republican Party’s devotion to the United States, our country joined with Russia, China and North Korea in refusing to sign on to a cybersecurity agreement created at the Paris Peace Forum last week. https://bit.ly/2qPfIC3 The pact was signed by more than 50 countries, 150 technology companies (including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and HP) and 90 charitable and university parties.

According to Shareblue Media [https://bit.ly/2qPfIC3],

The cybersecurity pact — which calls for countries to work together to promote human rights on the internet, thwart malicious activities such as theft of intellectual property and trade secrets, and develop better methods to prevent foreign election interference — was supported by most modern democratic nations including Japan, Canada, and the countries of the European Union. [emphasis added]

According to the original source, The American Independent,

With the Trump administration continuing to make inexplicable decisions that benefit Russia with no apparent gains for the U.S., it’s not hard to see why so many people believe that Putin has a hold on Trump.

Unfortunately for the American people, that also means Putin has a hold on Trump’s decision-making — and despite what Trump may claim, there’s nothing “America First” about America retreating.

Last, for today, is this beauty, too good to pass up. As reported by Newsweek [https://bit.ly/2TgPOUP], Leavenworth County (Kansas) commissioner Louis Klemp “is facing calls to apologize after telling a black woman that he is part of the “master race” during a routine public planning meeting.” This is not made up. The cited report had the video that includes this statement:

“I don’t want you to feel like I’m picking on you. Because we are part of the master race,” he said in the meeting. “You know you have a gap in your teeth we’re the master race, don’t ever forget that.”

The video has been replaced but you can see it at https://bit.ly/2K8SmQA Putting aside that someone would actually say this, the amazing thing to me is that there are merely calls for him to apologize. Nothing in the article indicates that a demand has been made for his resignation. He, of course, now claims he was just joking. Har-har.

Three Things to Know About the Acting Attorney General

By now, everyone awake knows that Trump fired Jeff Sessions. Standing alone, no loss in my opinion. I have expressed my views of Sessions in earlier posts in this blog.

But there is the major issue of how this relates to Trump’s determination to abort the Mueller investigation. If successful at doing that, Trump might well immunize himself from the laws of the United States and, in effect, become the dictator he wants to be. That catastrophic constitutional crisis-in-the-making will play out however it plays out. It is far from clear that Trump’s ploy to replace Sessions with Matt Whitaker is going to work because the constitutionality of Whitaker’s status as Acting AG has been challenged by legal authorities on all sides of the political spectrum.

Meanwhile, there is more to the Whittaker Walt story. Sorry, I got confused with the movie, The Russians Are Coming, in which Carl Reiner plays Walt Whittaker whose name is a challenge to the Russian submarine captain whose sub has gone aground on a Martha’s Vineyard-like island. It’s Matt Whitaker we’re concerned with here. Though I do recommend everyone rent The Russians Are Coming. It’s very funny and we could all use a laugh right now.

Back to Matt Whitaker. Here are the three things:

  1. He believes that good judges should administer “biblical justice” (New Testament only) ahead of the justice prescribed by the statutes enacted by the government; I know that sounds batsh*t crazy but here is the evidence: https://wapo.st/2PLGiKr
  2. Whitaker, who was Chief of Staff to Jeff Sessions before Trump axed Sessions and made Whitaker “acting,” believes that Marbury v. Madison was wrongly decided: https://wapo.st/2JRQsUh For those not initiated into the secret cult of law and lawyers, Marbury was decided in 1803 in an opinion written by one of the imminent jurists in American legal history, John Marshall. Here is a nice summary of the case:

“Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in the 1800 presidential election. Before Jefferson took office on March 4, 1801, Adams and Congress passed the Judiciary Act 1801, which created new courts, added judges, and gave the president more control over appointment of judges. The Act was essentially an attempt by Adams and his party to frustrate his successor, as he used the act to appoint 16 new circuit judges and 42 new justices of the peace. The appointees were approved by the Senate, but they were not valid until their commissions were delivered by Secretary of State James Madison.

William Marbury had been appointed Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia, but his commission was not delivered. Marbury petitioned the Supreme Court to compel the new Secretary of State, James Madison, to deliver the documents. Marbury, joined by three other similarly situated appointees, petitioned for a writ of mandamus compelling the delivery of the commissions….

The Court [unanimously] found that Madison’s refusal to deliver the commission was illegal, but did not order Madison to hand over Marbury’s commission via writ of mandamus. Instead, the Court held that the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 enabling Marbury to bring his claim to the Supreme Court was itself unconstitutional, since it purported to extend the Court’s original jurisdiction beyond that which Article III, Section 2, established.

Marshall expanded that a writ of mandamus was the proper way to seek a remedy, but concluded the Court could not issue it. Marshall reasoned that the Judiciary Act of 1789 conflicted with the Constitution. Congress did not have power to modify the Constitution through regular legislation because Supremacy Clause places the Constitution before the laws.

In so holding, Marshall established the principle of judicial review, i.e., the power to declare a law unconstitutional.”

Marbury v. Madison, Oyez, 10 Nov. 2018, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1789-1850/5us137.

  1. Whitaker also believes that states can overrule federal law. https://cnn.it/2FgIFRs

That position, which harkens back to the attitude of Southern states before the Civil War, is in direct conflict with the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that, I believe, Whitaker has sworn to uphold. Again, for the uninitiated, here is the pertinent part of the Supremacy Clause:

“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

So, this Matt Whitaker is the man Trump picked to be Acting Attorney General of the United States.

And, if that weren’t enough, when confronted with questions about the legitimacy of the appointment, Trump claimed not to know Whitaker and that he had acted on the basis of what other (unnamed) people had said about him. The media, of course, took a deep breath and immediately found the audio tape in which Trump had declared he did know Whitaker.

You just couldn’t make this stuff up. Trump has demonstrated once again that he, and the people supporting him in the White House, are corrupt, bumbling, incompetent, dishonest and, dare I say it, just “terrible people.” That was Trump’s characterization of the media people who dared to press him for answers about all this as he had one foot on the plane to fly to Paris where he promptly humiliated himself and the United States, again.

The Republicans in Congress will almost certainly continue to play the Kids Gallery to Trump’s version of Clarabell the Clown from the Howdy Doody Show. https://bit.ly/2qECe0r For those too young to know (Howdy aired from 1947 to 1960), Clarabell did not speak. He had a squeeze- horn on his belt and used exaggerated gestures to communicate with Buffalo Bob and the Kids Gallery. Maybe that’s a partial solution to Trump: let’s get him a belt-mounted squeeze-horn and a gag. General Kelly can continue to play Buffalo Bob.

Media Should Stop Playing Wag the Dog

The battle continues to rage on Twitter and elsewhere about whether CNN report Jim Acosta “put his hands” on a White House intern during a Trump press conference conflict over whether Acosta could ask a third question Trump didn’t want to hear. I have an opinion about what happened: Acosta tried to hog the questioning, a mistake but understandable in the circumstances; the intern was trying to do what she thought, correctly, the President wanted her to do, which was prevent Acosta from continuing to speak by taking the microphone out of his hands. Acosta resisted what, to me, looked like aggressive, even assaultive behavior by the intern. She should have stepped back at the first sign of resistance, but didn’t. Instead, she reached across Acosta and tried to snatch the microphone from his grip. He resisted, bringing the wrist of his hand, which was pointing at that moment, across the intern’s arm. Gently, I thought. She turned back to Trump with a “what do I do now” look on her face. Game over.

Well, not quite. The White House revoked Acosta’s press credentials claiming he had “put his hands” on the intern, a demonstrably false (are you surprised?) assertion. He did no such thing and the claim otherwise is a bald-faced lie. Putting aside the screaming irony of the idea that Donald Trump gives a good damn about what happens to a young female who works for the White House, the White House is now clutching its pearls and acting all offended on behalf of womankind.

In fact, they went so far as to release what appears to be a doctored video of the incident, altered to make it appear that Acosta was more aggressive than he actually was. I don’t know if the video was changed by the White House or by the source on the far far far right wing of the propaganda machine that, curiously, provided the tape used to the White House. The White House couldn’t get its own video? Really?

But here’s the thing. The WH Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders outright lied when she said that Acosta put his hands on the intern. He did not and even the doctored, if it was, video of the incident shows that clearly. Sanders, like all Trump’s Press Secretaries before her, has zero credibility, just like her pathetic excuse for a president.

So, what about it then? Here’s what I think.

Acosta and the rest of the WH press corps needs to learn how to ask questions. Acosta challenged Trump over whether the word “invasion” accurately describes the “caravan” of immigrants walking through Mexico toward the US border. This gave Trump the easy counter move of saying “we have a difference of opinion” and dismissing him. Acosta set himself up for that response. I have seen many other press people asking similar questions.

Instead, Acosta’s question should have been: “Mr. President, what supportable facts do you have to show that the immigrant caravan members are armed and intend to force their way into the United States?”  Or, “Mr. President, what investigation has been conducted to determine whether the caravan intends to crash the U.S. border or instead intends to seek asylum here as permitted under U.S. law?”

Trump likely will still lie but at least the “conversation” will be about facts and not about whether a group of people represents an “invasion” or something else.

Since Trump’s most ardent supporters are immune to new information and believe anything and everything Trump says, the change in approach won’t matter much to them. The rest of the country, however, would benefit by refocusing the questioning of the President on facts that can be verified, or not. Trump’s continuing strategy of diverting attention from his real problems, like the Mueller investigation, is a classic example of “wag the dog.” The press owes it to the country to learn how to ask questions that deflate rather than feed that game.

Just my opinion.