Posts tagged ‘complaint’

My Customer Service & Communication Advice to the United CEO

My company serves nearly 3 million visitors a year.  Though we always try for 100% satisfaction, some customers are going to slip through the cracks and be dissatisfied.   Each year, I get maybe 10 visitors who are severely dissatisfied, think they were mistreated, want to call their Congressman, are going to sue me, etc. I would say that these complaints eventually land on my desk but I actually look at every single comment card and letter and review that we get from customers and personally am involved with every single complaint of any sort.  Anyway, 10 or so are severe issues with a very upset customer that get to me without having been resolved in the field.

Folks who are involved in customer service will tell you that of these complaints, there will likely be a range of blame.  In some cases we screwed up.  In some cases no one screwed up but there was a mismatch of expectations.  And in some cases the customer was acting like a total asshole and was entirely to blame for the whole affair.  Sometimes it is hard to parse out after the fact which case is which -- something I wrote about here.  When these major complaints get to me, here is my guide to how I respond:

When we screw up:   "I am very sorry we did a poor job and you had a bad experience.  I am going to personally investigate immediately and we are going to make changes so this does not happen again -- but in the mean time, I want to refund your money and give you a certificate for some free camping so you can come back in the future and give us another chance to serve you well."

When the customer broke the rules and acted like a total jerk:   "I am very sorry we did a poor job and you had a bad experience.  I am going to personally investigate immediately and we are going to make changes so this does not happen again -- but in the mean time, I want to refund your money and give you a certificate for some free camping so you can come back in the future and give us another chance to serve you well."

When the exact situation is unclear:    "I am very sorry we did a poor job and you had a bad experience.  I am going to personally investigate immediately and we are going to make changes so this does not happen again -- but in the mean time, I want to refund your money and give you a certificate for some free camping so you can come back in the future and give us another chance to serve you well."

In any of these cases, if the customer describes poor behavior by my employees, I will tell them that "the behavior you are describing is absolutely unacceptable and, as I said, I am going to investigate personally as soon as we get off the phone."  You don't have to admit the behavior.  It is common that angry customers will dress up a story with a few added descriptions of outlandish employee behavior that may not actually be what happened.  You will try to figure that out later in the investigation.   But give the customer as much as you can.  If the customer said the employee used profanity, then it is perfectly fine to say "you are right, ms. customers, use of profanity by our employees is absolutely unacceptable" even if you suspect the employee did no such thing.

Giving this very positive response to customers who may have been bad actors or may be exaggerating can be hard because my local managers want to get very mad at me -- "Warren, don't you understand, he was a BAD customer.  You can't reward him for being a BAD customer."  To which I will say:  "First, you and I have not talked so I don't know yet if he was truly a BAD customer.  We may be the ones who screwed up.  But second, even if they were bad in some way, I am not rewarding a bad customer, I am trying to avoid a bad Tripadvisor review which will sit there on the Internet forever like a turd you can't flush.  And third, you seem to be trying to teach this customer a lesson, and make them realize they have been bad.  Even if the customer is really a jerk, this is never, ever ever ever going to happen.  You will never ever convince a jerk that they are a jerk, because almost by definition jerks last self-awareness, so stop trying."

We do a lot of training on this.  I tell folks all the time that if we have a customer like this who gets to me, I AM going to apologize and AM going to give them a refund and AM going to give them some free camping.  It doesn't mean that I am undermining the folks in the field, it means that this is smart business practice, particularly in this age of Internet reviews.  I tell my managers that they are letting their ego and pride stand in the way of having a customer walk away more satisfied, and if they refuse to check their ego, they are delegating the task of being humble upwards to me.  And over time, the good news is that most of my managers have gotten the message and have started emulating me so fewer and fewer of these ever reach me, they are solved much earlier in the field.

Postscript:  The first reaction I get from other business people is -- "don't you get taken advantage of and give out refunds to people who are just posturing about bad service just so they can get a refund?" And my answer is "yes".  But recognize that we have had over $100 million in revenues in this company since I started it, and we have perhaps paid $500 or $1000 is false refunds, or about .001% of revenues. I don't think .001% is very much to pay for the very high customer satisfaction rate we have.  But you would be surprised at the number of people that just can't let it go.  I don't know what this is called psychologically, but I will give another example.  We have a number of sites where the entrance station is not staffed on certain days and payment is on the honor system.  I have people who work for me who really get upset with me, telling me I simply HAVE to staff that gatehouse because some people are not paying.  You are being CHEATED!  I say that I am perfectly aware people are not paying, but it costs, all-in, probably $120-$150 to have a person sit in that gatehouse for 8 hours.  In that time perhaps 15 cars will come in.  At $6 apiece, even if every single one of them is cheating (and they do not, we have very good compliance in most honor system locations) I would be paying $150 to collect an extra $90 of revenue.  That would be insane.  But somehow the thought of lost revenue just makes some people crazy, no matter how expensive it is to chase it down.

Why I Quit Recruiting for Princeton

Princeton, like many top Universities, requires a face to face interview of every candidate.  They do this mostly through their alumni network.  I volunteered for this effort for well over a decade, and it was fun to meet and talk to a lot of bright kids.

However, it was becoming clear to me that Asians, with the same qualifications, had a much worse chance of getting in than other similar kids of other ethnicities.   I started getting Asian kids asking me about this and I had some canned answer from the University to give them, but that answer looked like BS to me.  I felt like I was being asked to lie if I told Asian kids they did not face discrimination in the process.

So I quit.  Princeton is a private institution (though it accepts a lot of public money) so I suppose it can pick candidates any way it wants, but that does not mean I have to act as an agent for them if I disagree with what they are doing.

The WSJ has a follow-up today on a couple of cases being made by Asians against Princeton and Harvard admissions:

In 2006 Jian Li filed a complaint with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights after he was denied admission to Princeton University. Mr. Li, who emigrated from China at age 4, had a perfect score on the SAT and graduated in the top 1% of his high school class. He alleged that Princeton violated civil-rights laws banning discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin. The complaint was initially rejected, but Mr. Li appealed and the government reopened the investigation in 2008. Seven years later, in 2015, the Obama administration, which strongly supported the use of racial preferences in college admissions and obviously took its sweet time reviewing Mr. Li’s case, issued a report exonerating Princeton.

Last year Mr. Blum’s organization filed a public records Freedom of Information Act request with the Education Department to gain access to the same documents that the federal government used to clear Princeton of any wrongdoing. Mr. Blum’s organization represents a group of Asian plaintiffs who are suing Harvard University over its admissions policies. The judge in that case has ordered Harvard to turn over six years of admissions records, and Mr. Blum suspects that the data will show that Harvard is unlawfully capping Asian enrollment.

America’s Asian population has exploded in recent decades, and Asian attendance at highly selective schools with colorblind admissions, such the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, reflects this demographic trend. At Harvard, however, the percentage of Asian undergrads has remained remarkably consistent for an institution that claims race is not a determining factor in who is admitted. Mr. Blum suspects that Princeton engages in similar shenanigans, but the school has been pressuring the Education Department to deny him the information that he requested more than a year ago.

Concerned that the government was finally going to fulfill the FOIA request, Princeton sued the Education Department on March 17 to block the release of the admissions documents. The suit argues that the material being sought is exempt from FOIA, a claim that the government has rejected. The school also maintains that releasing the data would compromise student privacy, and it likened its admissions process to “trade secrets” that, if exposed, would put Princeton at a competitive disadvantage in attracting students.

Don’t believe it. Admissions officers switch schools all the time, presumably taking knowledge of admissions procedures with them, and the criteria used by elite institutions to evaluate applicants is not the equivalent of an iPhone patent. Nor is student privacy an issue since names, addresses and other personal information can be redacted. Mr. Blum’s organization simply wants the number of Asians who have applied to Princeton, their SAT scores and grade-point averages, and other information that the school used to analyze applicants academically.

What really concerns Princeton is a potential discrimination lawsuit. What ought to concern the rest of us is the apparent determination of elite colleges to punish Asians students for their academic success. Asians have long been the forgotten victims of liberal affirmative-action schemes, subject to unwritten “just for Asian” admissions standards that recall the treatment of Jews in the first half of the 20th century. Princeton wants them to shut up about it. Let’s hope they don’t.

I will say that the act of turning down a perfect SAT is not limited just to Asians, so I don't take that as necessarily proof of discrimination.   Harvard and Princeton (and I suppose other Ivies but I really only know something about these two) seem to take a perverse pleasure in turning down perfect SATs.  I don't have the facts, but I wouldn't be surprised if the admit rate for kids with SAT's one notch short of perfect is better than those with perfect SATs.

My evidence of discrimination is based on years of actually meeting the kids, seeing their scores and resumes, and talking to them about their activities and passions -- and comparing who gets in and who does not.  And, of course, one merely has to look at the percentage of kids with Asian heritage at Princeton and compare it to universities like Berkeley that have color-blind admissions systems.

New York Museum & Restaurant Recommendation

Large museums can be overwhelming.  I remember a while back, one of the writers at Maggie's Farm blog suggested that the best way to see large museums is to pick one limited section and plan to visit just that section.  I have tried that a couple of times and it is an enjoyable approach, though as a completionist I have trouble walking away when I have not conquered every room (I am that guy, for example, that has to reveal every single square inch of dark space on a Diablo III map).

However, another alternative is just to visit a smaller museum.  Sometimes smaller museums can be disappointing, because the average quality (or at least name-value) of what is being displayed may be lower than in the large museums.  Not so the Frick Museum in New York City.  This is probably my favorite small museum.  The building itself is marvelous, the Fifth Avenue mansion of Henry Frick, Andrew Carnegie's right hand man (among many other ventures).  I first went to the museum years ago because it houses one of my favorite paintings, the Comtesse d'Haussonville by Ingres.  In addition in just 7 or 8 rooms, it has a virtual who's who of western art history, including Rembrandt, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Gainsborough, Turner, Holbein, Goya, Gilbert Stuart, Whistler, and many others.   The ratio of big names to also-rans is just amazing.  Walking the halls is like watching the actor list in the opening credits of the movie "A Bridge to Far".  My only complaint on this visit is that the Comtesse has been moved to a poor spot for viewing.

Another nice small museum nearby we also went to this weekend was the Neue Gallery, which focuses on German and Austrian art.  My wife loves Klimt, which is the reason we went.  The museum has a very good collection of Klimt and Egon Schiele, neither of which are really my cup of tea but for those who enjoy these artists it is a nice destination.  The third small museum we saw as the Museum of Arts and Design, with a great location on Columbus Circle.  We saw an exhibition of American 60's and 70's age-of-Aquarius style clothing.  There are also a few craft studios where one can watch designers work.  It was fun but probably overpriced for what it was.  However, on the 9th floor we went to the restaurant Robert which was really good -- very good food and drop dead gorgeous views of Columbus Circle, the park, and the rest of Manhattan.  We had a window table and this was the view:

On the far left, 4 or 5 floors up, is Per Se, one of the top restaurants in Manhattan and perhaps the country.  Given how hard it is to get a reservation, this is probably as close as I will come to eating there.

Unemployment Insurance Fraud Tricks

Typically, I see a LOT of people with no intention of working or looking for work collecting unemployment insurance payments.  For example, we have summer workers who take the winter off but still collect unemployment in the winter as if they were looking for work.  Most state governments have no desire to hear about this.  In fact, in California (at least a number of years ago) if you call the unemployment fraud number the only kind of complaint they take is reports of employer fraud.  You can't actually report employee fraud, and the one time I tried to do so I was threatened by a California State employee with dire legal consequences for "harassment" and "retaliation".

The new dodge I saw the other day is when Company A goes to an employee of Company B and offers to hire them away for higher pay.  When the employee leaves B for A, A tells them that they should file for unemployment, claiming they were forced out rather than quit (essentially constructive termination).  In most states, if an employee says one thing (I was forced out!) and an employer says another (She quit!), the employee is almost always believed unless the employer can bring an absurd amount of written evidence to the table to prove otherwise.

Anyway, having convinced the state the employee was terminated rather than quit, the employee collects unemployment benefits.   Then, company A pays the employee in cash under the table an amount per hour less than minimum wage but which in combination with the state unemployment payments does indeed add up to more than they were making at B.  They end up paying less than minimum wage and pay no employment taxes (since it is cash under the table) and the state makes up the difference with an unemployment check.  Company B, by the way, sees its unemployment taxes go way up because these rates are experience-based.

A Terrible Example of Potential Speech Suppression

A group of Harvard Law professors wrote an editorial a while back criticizing parts of the movie "A Hunting Ground" -- a movie that from every thing I have seen offers a pretty fertile ground for criticism.   Now, it appears that makers of the movie are considering using Title IX to suppress this criticism they don't like, arguing that since they are (to them) obviously the defenders of women, anyone who criticizes them must be attacking women.  Suffice it to say that this is pretty far afield from what Title IX was meant to accomplish.

One of the professors, Jeannie Suk wrote in the New Yorker:

But last week the filmmakers did more than understandably disagree with criticism of the film, which has been short-listed for the Academy Award for best documentary. They wrote, in a statement to the Harvard Crimson, that “the very public bias these professors have shown in favor of an assailant contributes to a hostile climate at Harvard Law.” The words “hostile climate” contain a serious claim. At Harvard, sexual harassment is “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including verbal conduct that is “sufficiently persistent, pervasive, or severe” so as to create a “hostile environment.” If, as the filmmakers suggest, the professors’ statement about the film has created a hostile environment at the school, then, under Title IX, the professors should be investigated and potentially disciplined.

To my knowledge, no complaint of sexual harassment has been filed with Harvard’s Title IX office—though I’ve been told by a high-level administrator that several people have inquired about the possibility—and I don’t know if the school would proceed with an investigation. Precedent for such an investigation exists in the case of Laura Kipnis, a feminist film-studies professor at Northwestern University, who earlier this year wrote an article criticizing aspects of Title IX policies and culture and was accused of creating a hostile environment on campus; Northwestern conducted an investigation and ultimately cleared Kipnis of sexual-harassment charges. A handful of students have said that they feel unsafe at Harvard because of the professors’ statement about the film. If a Title IX complaint were filed and an investigation launched, the professors wouldn’t be permitted to speak about it, as that could be considered “retaliation” against those who filed the complaint, which would violate the campus sexual-harassment policy.

It's Stalinists all the way down.

Thoughts from an Amherst College Parent

I am on the road and really don't have much time to write, but I feel compelled to give a few thoughts on the whole Amherst College situation that has blown up in social media over the last 24 hours.

Yesterday (Thursday) my son called me to tell me about a sit-in he found himself a part of in the library (I must admit to being vaguely happy he was actually in the library). He is not like me, and tends to observe these kinds of thing with an amazing dispassion.  He is fascinated by people with extreme views and loves to observe them.  For example, he always enjoys stopping and listening to the religious zealots preaching outside of Comicon when we visit.  It is almost an anthropological approach.

So I will say up front that most of the views here are mine, not his, since he reported most of the events as merely something interesting that happened to him.  I also say this because I don't want anyone on campus getting the idea they need to start some sort of totalitarian campaign against him, a fear that you will see is well-justified below.

His main observation of the original sit-in was that people seemed to have enormously negative experiences as persons of color on campus and he found that surprising.  He reported that people talked about their life at Amherst as, say, a black female, being a living hell, one that my son found hard to jibe with the general intolerance in the classroom for even an ambiguously racist comment.

I certainly understand that people of color still face a headwind of at least minor racist B*llshit.   I am reminded of one Amherst student telling me about having guests at a southern country club function trying to order drinks from him because he was black.

But when I grew up in the 60's in Texas racism meant that kids I knew actually went out gay-bashing in Montrose (the traditionally gay district in Houston) and the new black kid in an all-white school got beaten up every day (I will confess I had mixed fealings about both of these, since I was otherwise the bullying target of choice in the class and sometimes appreciated the split focus).  Against this backdrop, it is hard for me to consider a school that gives black applicants a substantial break on SAT scores for entrance and whose President turned around from a trip to London to address concerns of ethnic minorities to be institutionally racist.

Besides, it seems like kind of an insult to your parents and grandparents to call an Anglo wearing a sombrero to a party "violence" when those previous generations faced the real thing.  It's a bit like telling your granddad who lived through the Bataan death march that the University starved you by letting you out of class 30 minutes late for lunch.

One thing my son reported was that there were a lot of threats made against white students who somehow were not present in the library at the sit-in, as if non-presence at an unannounced event was somehow in and of itself racist.   The general tone of the discussion was very authoritarian -- everyone should be forced to be here, everyone should be forced to take diversity courses, etc.

The other thing that came out of the meeting was substantial vitriol aimed at a sign that appeared in a dorm window.  The media has not really been very specific about the sign, but it read "Free Speech 1776-2015".  All things being considered, this was a pretty tame commentary, especially since the protesters themselves kept talking about the concepts of free speech being dated.  But none-the-less, the student who posted it was being treated like the second coming of Adolf Hitler.

So today, some of the students confronted the school President Biddy Martin (who had turned around from a trip to London to meet them) and basically served her with an ultimatum, demanding that on the spot she sign a list of demands listed here.  The demands are alternately non-nonsensical and and totalitarian.  A few highlights:

  • The document essentially demands that Ms. Martin and the Board of Trustees apologize for all manner of past sins that have nothing to do with their own actions, or those of the College, or even those of the alumni of the College.

"President Martin must issue a statement of apology to students, alumni and former students, faculty, administration and staff who have been victims of several injustices including but not limited to our institutional legacy of white supremacy, colonialism, anti-black racism, anti-Latinx racism, anti-Native American racism, anti-Native/ indigenous racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Middle Eastern racism, heterosexism, cis-sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, mental health stigma, and classism."

This is a sort of secular original sin, and is common among these SJW movement.  The error of racism is that it puts on people an original sin based on the circumstances of their birth which they cannot erase through any sort of good behavior.  This movement shares the same error, putting on whites and straights and rich people and males and the Amherst community and a variety of other groups the same sort of original sin.

I will add one irony, that Ms. Martin is probably a lot closer in her beliefs to the protesters than I am.  I do not know her politics, but it is impossible to imagine she would be made President of Amherst College without being vetted in advance as reliably Liberal/Progressive.  This is not Left vs. Right, but Robespierre turning on his fellow revolutionaries.

  • I find this bit scary:  "Amherst College Police Department must issue a statement of protection and defense from any form of violence, threats, or retaliation of any kind resulting from this movement."  I will bet you a million dollars that a) you are thinking this means physical violence or disciplinary action but b) the authors mean "retaliation" to include verbal criticism of any sort, such that this very article would be considered "retaliation".
  • "President Martin must issue a statement of apology to faculty, staff and administrators of color as well as their allies, neither of whom were provided a safe space for them to thrive while at Amherst College."  I am willing to believe Amherst is not perfect and that there are *ssholes that make life difficult at times for people of color there, but it would be hard to find another place on the entire planet that is a safer and more welcoming environment for ethnic minorities that Amherst College.  What are they going to do in the real world?
  • This paragraph has gotten a lot of attention, as it should:

5.    President Martin must issue a statement to the Amherst College community at large that states we do not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the “All Lives Matter” posters, and the “Free Speech” posters that stated that “in memoriam of the true victim of the Missouri Protests: Free Speech.” Also let the student body know that it was racially insensitive to the students of color on our college campus and beyond who are victim to racial harassment and death threats; alert them that Student Affairs may require them to go through the Disciplinary Process if a formal complaint is filed, and that they will be required to attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.

The author of the fee speech poster needs to be punished because, why?  Because he or she was obviously dead-on correct in their analysis of the movement's goals?  Essentially they are saying, "yes you are right, we want to destroy free speech but you are not allowed to tell people that is what we are doing."

  • I have no problem with ditching "Lord Jeffs" as a mascot. First, it is a terrible mascot name.  Second, while ironically Amherst would have been considered a pretty enlightened and tolerant master by the colonists of the time, he did suggest the whole TB blankets to the Native Americans thing and since that is the only story anyone knows any more about him, its really a bad association.  I suggest "Redskins" instead  (OK, just kidding.  I am not a Redskin name supporter.)  The "moose"  (Meese?) suggestion is awful.  I would support a Dartmouth style solution of calling them the "Purple" before I could climb on board with "moose".  Or maybe in the spirit of the times they can be the "mauve".As an aside, Amherst College has a nice little art museum (which owes most of its existance to Standard Oil money, which I am sure the faculty and students try to ignore).  There is a really interesting portrait of Lindberg there I have never seen before.   Anyway, all the pictures have a short descriptor about the work as one would expect.  EXCEPT the one for the painting of Lord Amherst himself, which has a descriptor about 20 inches long because about 18 inches have been tacked on up front making sure everyone understands what a horrible idea the TB blankets were.  It reminds me of the Enola Gay in the Smithsonian, which I am told is still without any kind of label or plaque because no one could agree on how much vitriol needed to be spilled in the description about how bad dropping atomic bombs on civilians is.  Which gives me the idea that every portrait in a public space of FDR needs to begin by talking about the unconscionable internship of Japanese and every portrait of Wilson needs to start with what an awful racist he was. Time to rename the Wilson school at Princeton!

Wherein I Try to Be Fair to Yelp

I need to try to be fair to Yelp.  A reader sends me some second-hand comments from an ex-employee at Yelp:

He absolutely believes that there is no way for Yelp to hide or promote reviews just based on who the company is. This doesn't mean that they're not, of course. What my colleague says, though, is that the overriding criterion that they use to determine if a review should be "recommended" is if they can verify that the writer is a real person.

There are a couple ways you can do this, but two that will actually cause all of your past reviews to suddenly become recommended:

1) Work for Yelp--not really helpful, I know. I am told that Yelp will instantly fire anyone who leaves reviews while working there. But, once you leave, all of your reviews will always be recommended.

2) Connect your Yelp account to your Facebook, then connect with 100 friends.

There are other ways to have past reviews always come up recommended. If you post a review or several reviews, and, in aggregate, you get four interactions (they are marked as funny, cool, or useful), this will happen.

So I went back and looked.  To see if one's reviews are in the non-recommended purgatory, you have to log out (Yelp will pretend to you that you are recommended until you log out**).  Sure enough, all my 9 reviews seem to be in purgatory.  In other words, any effort I expended on reviews has been wasted, because Yelp does not show them.  I tend to write longer reviews, so apparently writing fewer more detailed reviews is not a practice Yelp wants to promote.  Do they prefer folks who spam lots of short reviews?  I can see how that may be, since more reviews bulk up Yelp's numbers.

I don't know what to make of this feedback.  At one level, it seems right and makes sense.  There are a lot of not recommended reviews where the review has just that one review.  But not always.  For example, for this store, reviewers with no picture, no name (just initials), just 2 total reviews and no friends are recommended, but someone who has a picture, a real name, 1 friend and 31 reviews is not.   I have to say that either their algorithm has some purposely random element (to defeat reverse engineering) or else there are other factors involved than just the ones listed above.  Also, some of the advice above simply has to be wrong.  For example, the last sentence makes no sense since it is impossible to upvote or favorite reviews in not-recommended purgatory (they don't even give you the buttons to do so).

I will post some more reviews over time to see if I get pulled out of spam status by their computer, or if I am permanently exiled based on a corporate complaint.

** By the way, this could be the subject of a gripe in and of itself.  It should not be so opaque that one's posts are all getting sent to the Yelp spam folder.  It is kind of insulting to invest this effort and then find out later Yelp is trashing everything I write.

Obama's New Wage and Hour Laws Worse For Our Company Than Rising Minimum Wages

Rising minimum wages are bad enough, but generally we can offset them with price increases (remember that, though, next time you get ticked off about your camping fees going up).  As an aside, not every business is in a competitive position that they can do this.

But the new Obama Administration rules greatly scaling back on our ability to have our managers be exempt employees is far, far worse.  Because its not just money, but it changes the entire relationship between me and my managers.  Most of my managers don't want to be hourly employees (you should see the complaint emails I am getting since I announced that this is likely coming) and have pride they have moved beyond timeclock punching.  Also, I think a lot understand they are not going to make more from this, and they may even make less.  To the extent they are working overtime today (and they all are) they will not be allowed to work overtime in the future.  So I will have to hire someone else to do those extra tasks, and that person's salary is likely to come in part from what the managers are making now.

These next few months I am having all of my salaried managers fill out time sheets just for analytical purposes.  I need to know how bad this is going to be.  If you run a business, you shouldn't be waiting for next year to do something, you need to be thinking and analyzing right now how you are going to handle these rules.

I wrote a long article on this here.  Stephen Miller has more in the same vein (via Overlawyered great wage and hour news roundup).  Here is a taste:

In McCutchen's view, the administration fails to understand that "it's still the same pot of money that's available to compensate the employee," whether a worker is classified as exempt or nonexempt. So if overtime pay is required, a likely result will be to strictly limit overtime hours worked, despite the adverse effect on productivity, rather than—as the administration expects—to increase the employee's annual compensation.

While many non-executive employees view themselves as professionals and react negatively when shifted to hourly compensation, "the DOL wants nearly everyone to be nonexempt, and to sign in and clock out as do unionized workers," McCutchen contended. "They don't believe that some employees prefer to be salaried, with guaranteed pay and the flexibility to adjust when they do their work."

Postscript:  I guess I just don't understand the vision that is in the head of Progressives.  How does it help their stated goal of empowering the average Joe to convert him from a valued, up-and-coming junior manager to a 40 hour a week timeclock puncher?  How will people ever be able to migrate from lower end jobs to management positions if there are not junior manager positions in which they can demonstrate their energy and dedication?  I suppose they must believe that junior managers will still be doing the same things and working the same hours, but just earning lots of extra overtime with these new rules.  If that is really what they think, they are completely divorced from reality.

Applied Underwriters Is Threatening Me With Lawsuits If I Don't Remove Negative Reviews About Them

About a week or so ago I wrote a long and detailed post (with frequent updates as I discovered new information) about my extreme dissatisfaction with my workers compensation insurance from Applied Underwriters, a Warren Buffet-owned insurance company.  I also wrote a shorter, parallel review on Yelp** (where Applied Underwriters already has an abysmal rating).  For reasons I will guess at in the next post, Yelp keeps marking my post as "not recommended" despite the fact that it is one of the few that is not just a rant of the sort "this company sux" but actually has real details.  There is a tiny almost invisible link at the bottom to see other reviews not recommended.

Yesterday, I received a letter from Applied Underwriters (Letter here (pdf)) demanding that I take down the Yelp review and my blog post or else they will sue me for libel.  Based on my understanding of libel law, the content of my posts (which are all legally protected opinion), and recent court cases, Applied Underwriters has essentially no chance of ever winning such a suit.  But my guess is that this is not their intention.  I presume they are hoping that the fear of legal action, and the expense of legal defense, will cause me to stop my perfectly valid public criticism of their product.

I am seeking legal advice from a well-known First Amendment attorney, so Applied Underwriters will get my final response after I have had advice of counsel.  But here are a few thoughts:

You can read the attorney's letter in full if you are a fan of such things, but if you read sites like Popehat much, you can pretty much predict what you will see.

The gist of their complaint, from the only paragraph of mine quoted in the letter, seems to be the word "scam".  By the text of their letter, they seem to believe that "scam" is libelous because their company is well-rated financially and that they provide reasonable claims service.  I concede both these facts.  However, I called it a "scam" because there is a big undisclosed cost to their product that was never mentioned in the sales process, and that could only be recognized by its omission in the contract I signed -- that there is nothing in the contract committing them to any time-frame under which to return deposits and excess premiums I have paid, which may well amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.  This fact about the contract is confirmed by their customer service staff, who have said further that the typical time-frame to return such over-collections and deposits is 3-7 years after the contract ends, or at least 6-10 years after the first of the deposits was made.

If I had gotten any descriptions of their service terms wrong, I would have been happy to correct them.  Hell, given that apparently Applied Underwriters will hold over $200,000 of my money for as many as ten years before they maybe return it to me, I am hoping I somehow have misunderstood.  Unfortunately, their staff is pretty adamant that I understand these terms perfectly, and you will see that the letter sent by the attorneys does not attempt to refute any of the specific issues that drive my negative review.  And of course none of this was ever disclosed in the sales process.  The company attorneys point to the fact that I read the agreement and signed that I understood, but in fact this issue is only in the agreement by its omission.  In its 10 pages of arcane boilerplate, the agreement never includes any clause giving them any legal obligation to return your deposits and excess premiums in an defined timeframe.  It is that omission that I missed.   Would you have caught it?  Is this a substantial enough issue that you would expect disclosure in the sales process?

So is this a "scam"?  I believe that this issue is costly enough, and hard enough to detect, and far enough outside of expected business practices to be called such.  You may have your own opinion, but ask yourself -- When you enter into, say, a lease and have to put down a security deposit, is it your reasonable expectation that the landlord has the right in your lease to keep your deposit for 3-7 years (or more) after you move out?  Oh, and by the way, how might your evaluation of something as a "scam" be affected by the knowledge that the company is threatening to sue anyone who writes a negative review?

Anyway, I take responsibility for my own failure as a consumer here.  But in a free society it is perfectly reasonable to communicate issues one has with a product or service to help others avoid similar mistakes.  Which is what I have done.

 

**  I have problems with Yelp as well.  What is linked is not my original review.  My original review linked to my blog post.  Yelp took it down.  I will tell that saga in a future post.

Competition via Influencing Government

I have mentioned a number of times my chicken or the egg arguments with Progressives on the solution to cronyism.  Is the problem that government power exists to influence markets, and as long as it exists people will bid to control it?  Or is it possible to wield massive make-or-break government power over industry rationally, and only the rank immorality and corrupt speech of corporations stands in the way.  The former argues for a reduction in government power, the latter for more regulation of corporations and their ability to participate in the political process.

I believe this is an example in favor of the "power is inherently corrupting" argument.  No corporation lobbied for NOx rules on diesel engines.  They all fought it tooth and nail.  But once these regulations existed, engine makers are all trying to use the laws to gut their competition:

In 1991, the EPA ignored complaints from several makers of non-road engines that rivals were cheating, in order to save fuel, on emissions rules for oxides of nitrous (NOx). Then environmental groups took up the same complaint, whereupon the agency demanded face-saving consent decrees with numerous engine makers, including two Volvo affiliates.

In essence, the engine makers apologized by agreeing in 1999 to accelerate by a single year compliance with a new emissions standard scheduled to take effect in 2006.

Meanwhile, with another NOx standard looming in 2010, Navistar sued the EPA claiming rival engine-makers were seeking to meet the rule with a defective technology. In turn, Navistar’s competitors sued claiming the EPA was unfairly favoring a defective technology pursued by Navistar (these are only the barest highlights of what became a truck-makers’ legal holy war).

While all this was going on, a Navistar joint-venture partner, Caterpillar, complained that 7,262 Volvo stationary engines made in Sweden before 2006 had violated the 1999 consent decree. Now let’s credit Caterpillar with a certain paperwork ingenuity: The Volvo engines were not imported to the U.S. and were made by a Volvo affiliate that wasn’t a party to the consent decree. EPA itself happily certified the engines under its then-current NOx standard, only changing its mind four years later, prodded by a competitor with a clear interest in damaging Volvo’s business.

To complete the parody, a federal district court would later agree that the 1999 consent terms “do not clearly apply” to the engines in question, but upheld an EPA penalty anyway because Volvo otherwise might enjoy a “competitive advantage” against engines to which the consent decree applied.

As a side note, this is from the "oops, nevermind" Emily Litella School of Regulation:

Let it be said that the EPA’s NOx regulation must have done some good for the American people, though how much good is hard to know. The EPA relies on dubious extrapolations to estimate the benefits to public health. What’s more, the agency appears to have stopped publishing estimates of NOx pollution after 2005. Maybe that’s because the EPA’s focus has shifted to climate change, and its NOx regulations actually increase greenhouse emissions by increasing fuel burn.

Illustrating Pollution Stories with Steam Plumes

Readers will know of my pet peeve on this issue.  It turns out this has come up as a viewer complaint at the BBC several times and they actually have a policy on it, though like many media organizations they don't consistently follow their own guide.

You can see many examples simply by searching google images for "air pollution".  The people riding bikes with masks are in actual pollution.  The rest of the photos on the first page are mainly steam plumes.  Note how the photographers like to catch the steam at dusk or backlit so they look dark and sortof smokey.

click to enlarge

Arizona Corporation Commission Web Site is Criminally Insecure

Today I had to do my annual renewal of my corporate registration in Arizona.  As in most states, this involves a bit of information foreplay followed by the purpose of the exercise -- sending in a check to the corporation commission.

But here is the extraordinarily scary part -- I started the annual reporting process by just typing in the name of my company and getting started.  There was no password protection, no identity check.  They had no way of knowing I had anything to do with this corporation and yet I was answering questions like "have you been convicted for fraud."  The potential for mischief is enormous.  One would have to get the timing right (an annual report must be due before one can get in) but one could easily open the site on January 1 and start entering false information in the registrations for such corporations as Exxon and Wal-Mart.

See for yourself.  Here is their web site.  Below is a screen shot of the site letting me in to edit one of Wal-Mart's corporate registrations in Arizona:

click to enlarge

 

Again, note what I am saying.  This is not the result of hacking.  This is not lax security I figured out how to evade.  This is the result of no security whatsoever.  I simply went to the link above, clicked on the Wal-Mart Associates link, and then clicked on the annual report link.  I know from doing my own registration that there is a signature page at the end, but all you do is type in the name of an officer and a title -- data that is right there on the site.  It's like asking you for a password after the site just listed all the valid passwords.

If I disliked Wal-Mart, I could put all kinds of crazy garbage in here.  I did not go further, because I would have had to answer these questions to proceed and I had no desire to mess with another company's critical data, but if I had gone further I could have changed their mailing address, the names of their officers, etc. -- all I had to do was just pay the $60-ish registration fee for them and they would have a big mess on their hands to sort out.   If I had access to a fake or stolen credit card and a public computer, I could have done it all without any hope of being traced.

By the way, from my experience, this is not unique to Arizona.  This criminally lax behavior seems to be the norm in most states.

I have submitted this all as a complaint to the state, so far with no response.  If anyone in AZ knows how I can get someone's attention with this, let me know.

Libertarian: I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

From Lee Goodman on an opinion piece in the WSJ

This startling assertion of government power became public in December when the FEC released an enforcement file in the case of a Boston television station's regular Sunday-morning news program, "On the Record." The station, WCVB, had invited two congressional candidates (a Democrat and a Republican) into its studio to appear on "On the Record" in the weeks leading up to the 2012 election and formatted the joint appearance as a 30-minute debate.

Another candidate (a libertarian) who was not invited filed a complaint alleging that the value of WCVB's production costs and airtime constituted unlawful corporate contributions to the two candidates who were invited.

Wow, I am sure glad the "libertarian" is pushing for government regulation of speech and government restrictions on the decision-making of private businesses.

Ventura County Blues, Update

One of my favorites writers Megan McArdle comments on my post about the regulatory excess in California.  The same post was linked by Reason as well.  The Reason post got the attention of Ron Paul, who will be interviewing me for his radio show next week.

I posted a few updates on the article today:

Wow, reading this again, I left out so much!  An employee once sued us at this location for harassment and intimidation by her manager -- when the manager was her sister!  It cost me over $20,000 in legal expenses to get the case dismissed.  I had an older couple file a state complaint for age discrimination when they were terminated -- despite the fact that our entire business model is to hire retired people and the vast majority of our employees are 70 and older.  And how could I have forgotten the process of getting a liquor license?  I suppose I left it out because while tedious (my wife and I had to fly to California to get fingerprinted, for example), it is not really worse than in other places -- liquor license processes are universally bad, a feature and not a bug for the established businesses one is trying to compete with.   We gave the license up pretty quickly, when we saw how crazy and irresponsible much of the customer base was.  Trying to make the place safer and more family friendly, we banned alcohol from the lake area, and faced a series of lawsuit threats over that.

Yet Another Reason To Keep Government Out of Commerce

Because the government exempts itself from the most basic rules that apply to private companies.

Raising concerns about consumer privacy, California's health exchange has given insurance agents the names and contact information for tens of thousands of people who went online to check out coverage but didn't ask to be contacted.

The Covered California exchange said it started handing out this consumer information this week as part of a pilot program to help people enroll ahead of a Dec. 23 deadline to have health insurance in place by Jan. 1.

State officials said they are only trying to help potential customers find insurance and sign up in time. But some insurance brokers and consumers who were contacted said they were astonished by the state's move.

"I'm shocked and dumbfounded," said Sam Smith, an Encino insurance broker and president of the California Assn. of Health Underwriters, an industry group.

Smith said he was under the impression from the exchange that these consumers had requested assistance. He received the names of two consumers this week but has not yet contacted them.

"These people would have a legitimate complaint," Smith said.

The names provided include people who started an insurance application on the Covered California website since enrollment launched Oct. 1, but for whatever reason never picked a health plan or completed the sign-up process.

The state said it provided information on tens of thousands of people who logged into the state's website, but it didn't know the exact number.

The exchange said agents were given names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses if available.

Courts Have Become the Temple of Junk Science

If the Left is really as passionate as they say they are about taking on people and institutions who are anti-science, then they should be dedicating themselves to rethinking the current tort system.  Toyota may be facing $5 billion in settlements due to a defect that government reports and independent studies say is not there.

And recall NHTSA's performance during the furor almost four years ago over alleged runaway Toyotas. Its then-overseer, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, happily participated in congressional hearings designed to flog for the benefit of trial lawyers the idea of a hidden bug in Toyota's electronic throttle control.

When the agency much more quietly came out with a report a year later debunking the idea of an electronic defect, notice how little good it did Toyota. The car maker still found it necessary to cough up $1.2 billion to satisfy owners who claimed their cars lost value in the media frenzy over a non-defect. Toyota has also seen the tide turning against it lately as it resists a deluge of accident claims.

At first, opposing lawyers were hesitant to emphasize an invisible defect that government research suggested didn't exist. That was a tactical error on their part. In an Oklahoma trial last month involving an 82-year-old woman driver, jurors awarded $3 million in compensatory damages and were ready to assign punitive damages in a complaint focused on a hypothetical bug when Toyota abruptly settled on undisclosed terms.

In another closely-watched trial set to begin in California in March, an 83-year-old female driver (who has since died from unrelated causes) testified in a deposition that she stepped on the brake instead of the gas. The judge has already ruled that if the jury decides to believe her testimony, it is entitled to infer the existence of a defect that nobody can find.

These cases, out of some 300 pending, were chosen for a reason. Study after study, including one last year by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, finds that elderly female drivers are inordinately prone to "pedal misapplication." If Toyota can't prevail in these cases, the company might be wise to run up the white flag and seek a global settlement that some estimate at upwards of $5 billion—quite a sum for a non-defect.

Trying to Make My Job Impossible

Walter Olson has an article on three recent 5-4 decisions where we narrowly avoided Supreme Court rulings that would have further separated liability as a business owner from actual bad actions.  This one in particular resonates with me:

Vance raised the question of who counts as a “supervisor” for purposes of harassment liability. Under existing Court precedent, employers are more or less automatically liable when a “supervisor” engages in harassment. When it’s a co-worker, they are still frequently liable – e.g., if they have received a complaint about it but not fixed things, or if they have negligently allowed the situation to develop – but liability isn’t as close to automatic. As all Justices recognized, however, the old model of a workplace with a military-like chain of command is fast giving way to newer models in which it is extremely hard to tell who is supervising whom, and in particular work orders (“Here, do this for me.”) can issue in multiple directions, not just from “up” to “down.” The four liberal justices were happy to blur the lines by saying that the more people are doing supervisor-like things, the more employees’ misconduct will be imputed automatically to the employer with no chance for it to raise counterarguments that it had acted properly. The majority led by Justice Alito more reasonably recognized that the ability to take tangible employment actions against a co-worker is a better test of “supervisor” than the ability to ask them to undertake some work responsibility.

Last year I got sucked into a lawsuit where an ex-employee, after her termination, sued our company for allegedly racist remarks another employee made about her husband.  The lawsuit was the first we ever heard about the alleged incident -- it was never reported to me or any other manager or employee, it was behavior that was banned by our policies and training, and we never (obviously) had a chance to make any corrections.  The litigant tried to argue that the person who made the alleged remarks was "supervisory" because she had sometimes been asked to draft a shift schedule for the manager.

We eventually had this dismissed, but it cost us $25,000 in legal fees to make it go away.   It was particularly frustrating given that if this had ever been raised as an issue to me, it would have been investigated and heads would have rolled if necessary.  This whole notion of having liability even when operating to the highest standards is just terrifying.  And four Supreme Court justices tried to make all this irrelevant, essentially linking my liability to the standards and intelligence of whoever is my weakest employee.

SAT Scores Are Bad Education Evaluation Data

I am happy to see the public school system coming in for much-deserved criticism.  I don't have anything to add to this article that I have not already said about schools many times.  But I want to make one complaint about a chart used in the blog post:

sat-scores

 

SAT scores are a terrible metric for measuring academic performance over time.

First, I am not at all convinced that the test scoring does not shift over time (no WAY my son had a higher score than me, LOL).

But perhaps the most important problem is that all students don't take the SAT -- it is a choice.  Shifts in the mix of kids taking the test -- for example, if over time more kids get interested in college so that more marginal academic kids take the test -- then the scores are going to move solely based on mix shifts.  Making this more complicated, there is at least one competitive test (the ACT) which enjoys more popularity in some states than others, so the SAT will represent an incomplete and shifting geographic mix of the US.  Finally, as students have gotten smarter about this whole process**, they gravitate to the ACT or the SAT based on differing capabilities, since they test in different ways.

To me, all this makes SAT scores barely more scientific than an Internet poll.

** If you have not had a college-bound student recently, you will have to trust me on this, but parents can spend an astounding amount of time trying to out-think this stuff.  And that is here in flyover country.  Apparently private school parents on the East Coast can be absurd (up to and including hiring consultants for 6 figures).  A few years ago it was in vogue to try to find your kid a unique avocation.  Violin was passe -- I knew kids playing xylophone and the bagpipes.  A friend of mine at a high profile DC private school used to have fun with other parents telling them his son was a national champion at falconry, the craziest thing he could make up on the spur of the moment at a cocktail party.  Other parents would sigh enviously, wishing they had thought of that one for their kid.

Restricting Government Speech

I have been emailing the Florida Secretary of State today, trying to get information on an article I am writing on corporate minutes scams (something I have blogged about in the past).  The folks in Florida have been helpful, no complaint there, which is why I took the individual's name off the email below.

It is the footer in this email that bothers me, specifically the chart on the bottom left.   My guess is that this footer is appended to all emails from government employees, at least of the Secretary of State's office.  It strikes me the attached chart crosses the line from public information into the majority political party making a campaign point.  Here is an enlargement of the chart:

My guess is that many Democrats in the state would not necessarily agree this is "the right direction".  Certainly President Obama went on the record last week as saying that he thought that the decline in public sector workers was bad, not good.

I think readers know that I likely agree with the sentiments of the people who made this chart.  I think increasing private employment and decreasing public employment is the right direction.  But just as it is important to support free speech of people we disagree with or find objectionable, it is important to oppose government excesses even when we are in favor of its goals.

This is a great campaign chart.  It is not an appropriate attachment to official government business mail.

Fannie and Freddie: Worse Than We Thought

From Edward Pinto at the American

Fannie and Freddie entered into agreements accepting responsibility for misleading conduct discovered by the SEC, including:

1.    As of June 30, 2008, Freddie had $244 billion in subprime loans, while investors were told it had only $6 billion in subprime exposure.

a.    Freddie knew it was inadequately compensated for the risks it was taking. For example, it was taking on “subprime-like loans to help achieve [its] HUD goals” that were similar to private fixed-rate subprime, but the latter typically received “returns five to six times as great,” says the complaint.

b.    Freddie had concerns about risk layering on loans with an LTV >90% and a FICO <680. (Yet, in Freddie’s disclosures it only noted risk layering concerns on loans with an LTV >90% and a FICO <620. This is a major difference since only 10 percent of its loans fell into the LTV >90% and a FICO <620 category, while nearly half fell into the LTV >90% and a FICO <680 one.)

2.    As of June 30, 2008, Fannie had $641 billion in Alt-A loans (23 percent of its single-family loan guaranty portfolio), while investors were told it had less than half that amount ($306 billion, or 11 percent of its single-family loan guaranty portfolio).

3.    The SEC complaint disclosed that Freddie had a coding system to track “subprime,” “other-wise subprime,” and “subprime-like” loans in its loan guaranty portfolio even as it denied having any significant subprime exposure.

These suits are important because they demonstrate that Fannie and Freddie “told the world their subprime exposure was substantially smaller than it really was … and mislead the market about the amount of risk on the companies’ books,” said Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.

The Next Step Past "Unexpected"

What does a statist government do when attaching "unexpected" to all negative economic numbers does not provide the necessary political cover?

Argentina’s government has filed criminal charges against the managers of an economic consulting firm, escalating its persecution of independent economists.

…The government is charging MyS Consultores with “publishing false information about inflation data” to benefit themselves and their clients. The criminal complaint alleges that MyS’s data also lead to speculative behavior in Argentina’s bond market.

…Consumer prices rose 9.7% in May from a year ago, according to the national statistics agency, Indec. But virtually all economists say annual inflation surpasses 20%—one of the world’s highest rates—angering government officials who dismiss inflation as a problem.

…So far this year, the Secretariat has fined at least nine economic research firms 500,000 pesos ($122,000) each. This week, the Secretariat also slapped a second fine on Orlando J Ferreres & Asociados.

“They fine us for saying how much prices have risen,” Mr. Ferreres, director of his eponymous firm, said. “They could seek criminal charges against all of us. We don’t know how far they’re willing to go.”

Mr. Ferreres said the legal actions are part of a strategy to prevent independent economists from publishing potentially negative information during an election year…

Government officials say they hoped the fines would deter economists from “deceiving” the public into making poor financial decisions by publishing inflation estimates that differ considerably from Indec’s consumer price index.

It is sad to see how far Argentina has fallen.  In the past it has been one of my favorite countries in the world to visit.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Allowing this kind of hell to exist has got to be one of the worst systematic civil rights violations that still exist in this country

The U.S. Department of Justice recently released its first-ever estimate of the number of inmates who are sexually abused in America each year. According to the department’s data, which are based on nationwide surveys of prison and jail inmates as well as young people in juvenile detention centers, at least 216,600 inmates were victimized in 2008 alone. Contrary to popular belief, most of the perpetrators were not other prisoners but staff members—corrections officials whose job it is to keep inmates safe. On average, each victim was abused between three and five times over the course of the year. The vast majority were too fearful of reprisals to seek help or file a formal complaint.

Just to calibrate, the total number of sexual assaults reported outside of prisons in the US is something like 190,000 a year.

Sexual violence is not an inevitable part of prison life. On the contrary, it is highly preventable. Corrections officials who are committed to running safe facilities train their staff thoroughly. They make sure that inmates who are especially vulnerable to abuse—such as small, mentally ill, and gay or transgender detainees—are not housed with likely perpetrators. And they hold those who commit sexual assaults accountable, even if they are colleagues.

But many corrections administrators are reluctant to make sexual abuse prevention a top priority, preferring to maintain the status quo rather than acknowledge the role their own employees play. Others are actually fighting reform efforts, claiming, in spite of the evidence, that sexual violence is rare.

This resistance is reflected in the slow implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which Congress unanimously passed in 2003. The law mandated binding national standards to help end sexual abuse in detention. But almost eight years later, the Justice Department has yet to promulgate final standards.

Take California for example, where the prison guard union is among the most powerful in the country.  Given how far in the tank legislators in that state are for their public unions, it is hugely unlikely this will get addressed any time soon

Get Over It

As much as I enjoy seeing Yale circling the drain of self-destruction, I am simply flabbergasted by the most recent discrimination suit it faces from a group of current and former female students.

The Yale group's confidential Title IX complaint to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reportedly includes testimony about sexual assaults, but the hostile-environment charge against the university rests as well on a litany of complaints about offensive exercises of First Amendment freedoms. A December 2010 draft complaint letter, obtained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), focuses on these "incidents": In 2006, a group of frat boys chant "No means yes, yes means anal" outside the Yale Women's Center. In 2010, a group of fraternity pledges repeat this obnoxious chant outside a first-year women's dorm. In 2008, pledges surround the Women's Center holding signs saying, "We love Yale sluts." In 2009, Yale students publish a report listing the names and addresses of first-year women and estimating the number of beers "it would take to have sex with them."

There are few adults who would not recognize these incidents as stupid, boorish frat-boy behavior not to be emulated.  But taking Yale to court, in effect seeking to force the University to punish such speech, takes the current college trend of protection the right not to be offended to absurd extremes.

Consider for a moment that there are radical women's organizations on most college campuses that take it as an article of faith that all men are rapists and all men are complicit in violence against women.   How is this speech any less aggressive, though it is treated with complete respect by universities.  In fact, many integrate this point of view into required Freshman sensitivity training.   Women on compuses routinely engage in speech saying that every man is a guilty felon complicit in awful crimes, and I don't see any men whining and running to Uncle Sugar to protect their delicate ears from offense.  At least the frat boys were probably drunk and joking -- the women are sober and dead serious.

Don't not be mistaken -- this is not about rights or freedom, but about a bid for totalitarian control of campuses by a niche group.  From Wendy Kaminer

Sad to say, but feminism helped lead the assault on civil liberty and now seems practically subsumed by it. Decades ago, when Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, and their followers began equating pornography with rape (literally) and calling it a civil-rights violation, groups of free-speech feminists fought back, in print, at conferences, and in state legislatures, with some success. We won some battles (and free speech advocates in general can take solace in the Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the right to engage in offensive speech on public property and public affairs). But all things considered (notably the generations of students unlearning liberty) we seem to be losing the war, especially among progressives.

This is not simply a loss for liberty on campus and the right to indulge in what's condemned as verbal harassment or bullying, broadly defined. It's a loss of political freedom: the theories of censoring offensive or hurtful speech that are used to prosecute alleged student harassers are used to foment opposition to the right to burn a flag or a copy of the Quran or build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero. The disregard for liberty that the Obama administration displays in its approach to sexual harassment and bullying is consistent with its disregard for  liberty, and the presumption of innocence, in the Bush/Obama war on terror. Of course, the restriction of puerile, sexist speech on campus is an inconvenience compared to the indefinite detention or show trials of people suspected of terrorism, sometimes on the basis of un-reviewed or un-reviewable evidence. But underlying trivial and tragic deprivations of liberty, the authoritarian impulse is the same.

PS-  The last part in the first quote about rating women as related to sex is ironic, as, if memory serves, Yale was the location around 1980 when a group of female students created a guide rating male students on their sexual talents.  When women do it, it is a brave act of liberation.  When men do it, it is sexual harassment.

PPS-  My son is going through the college admissions process.  All these schools stress how much they are looking for future leaders.  How can Yale be so selective that it has an admissions rate around 7% of applicants but still end up with so many people who cannot function in the world as an adult?  The women are begging to have a daddy to protect them and the men seem to need a daddy to kick their ass until they act like adults.

I Hate to Enjoy This, But...

Apparently Google is under attack from many directions for anti-trust violations, the main complaint seeming to be that Google tilts its search results to favor its own divisions   (e.g. Google Places at the top of travel searches).    The Reason article as well as the Politico piece illustrate just how much competitors with political pull, rather than consumers, are the true beneficiaries of anti-trust policy.

I really have nothing but disdain for this use of government power, but I can't help but laugh at the plight of Google, whose CEO had a large role in suing Microsoft for browser anti-trust years ago for the horrible crime of giving away a free browser with their OS.  In fact, ironically, the core of this suit was about Microsoft going too far in integrating the OS with browser.  In many ways, Microsoft was probably prescient (for once, they tend to be a follower) in looking towards an OS built around browser.  In fact, by preventing Microsoft from such integration, the suit cleared the way for an integrated browser based OS to be introduced by.... Google with Chrome OS.  And there sure is a lot of browser / OS integration in my Google android-based phone.  I also don't remember my Android phone offering me a range of browser and search choices, requirements their CEO had the government impose on Microsoft.

More recently, Google has led the charge in Washington to regulate broadband suppliers in the name of "net neutrality."  This classic bit of tilting the playing field in the name of creating a level playing field was theoretically aimed at stopping broadband companies from tilting their bandwidth for or against different web sites.  Thus critics of Google who are concerned with the tilting of their search results for or against companies are demanding "search neutrality."  This is a horrible bit of government interventionism, but the irony is delicious.

Google's efforts in net neutrality really are a head scratcher for me.  What did they really get from that, and was it really worth opening the Pandora's box of government Internet regulation?  And didn't anyone there not see the obvious application of the same logic to themselves?  If you establish the principle that Cox Cable has to be a common carrier, it seems like a small step to say that Google Search must be as well.  And maybe Amazon.com next must be a common carrier of retail goods.    This is bad, bad stuff and Google and its CEO has brought it all on themselves.

Who Cares

Apparently Google is getting accused of skewing its search results to favor its own products.   To which I say, so freaking what?   When did Google suddenly become a common carrier?  The implication is that by their very success (evidenced by a high market share) they have imposed on themselves more onerous rules than others operate under.  When I stay in the Marriott, and I ask the concierge about local dining options, don't I expect him or her to list the hotel's restaurant options first?

I suppose consumers might have a mild beef if Google is misrepresenting its service, but for gods sakes its free -- if you are suspicious of the results, there are like a zillion competitors.

This complaint is basically coming from businesses.  I know from past experience that seeing one's page rank drop with one of the regular Google algorithm tweaks is frustrating, but companies that through good SEO have climbed to the top of the search rankings are not owed anything, and in particular they are not owed that search ranking that they got for free.  In fact, these are businesses that are basically free riders on Google whining about Google's actions.  If they want to complain Google is not abiding by its terms of service on its paid listings, fine.  That is potentially a legitimate complaint.  But can't we agree that, as a foundation principle, government consumer protection action is never required for a free service somehow falling short of expectations?