Dear General Growth Properties & St Louis Galleria: Stop Harassing Customers

Good afternoon,

I’m writing to you as I have been witnessing (via Twitter) the mistreatment of two customers in one of your properties today. Specifically, these two people (users @deray and @nettaaaaaaaa on Twitter) were targeted specifically (and erroneously) for “photographing store fronts” when in fact they were simply shopping. The fact that these two are local leaders in the Ferguson peaceful protest movement adds suspicion as to why they would be arbitrarily singled out like this.

I understand that the St. Louis Galleria is private property, and thus one does not expect the US Constitution to provide the same latitude there as in a public space. However, I also understand that all Americans should have an expectation to not be harassed in a shopping mall based on things like the color of their skin or their peaceful political activities.

I expect St. Louis Galleria to apologize to them immediately. Since you’re a publicly traded company with several properties across the United States, I can also assure you that I will not be spending my money at any of your other properties (Glendale Galleria is only a short distance from me) until this matter is resolved to my satisfaction. I will also be urging as many people as possible to do the same.

Brian Haigh

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Letter to President Barack Obama: Protect Peaceful Protesters in Ferguson, MO

Dear President Obama,

I’m writing to you because of what is happening right now in St. Louis. This morning (on November 26, 2014), a group protesting peacefully on public property was broken up with pepper spray and arrests, for no reason other than expressing their constitutionally guaranteed right to speak out. Leaders of this group are also being targeted by police simply for trying to organize for change in their community.

I will be honest, your speeches on the unrest gripping this country have been lacklustre, and I fear only serve to embolden those now using force to quell dissent. Make no mistake, this is not about maintaining law and order, this is about allowing citizens of this country to protest peacefully against injustice and inequality.

I implore on you to use the power of your office, and that of the Department of Justice, to act decisively to allow the peaceful, well-organized protesters in Ferguson and elsewhere to continue their work. Since you’ve been elected, I’ve watched a lot of people in the upper echelons of American society get a free pass to commit fraud and embezzlement on the American people, while those fighting for racial and economic justice at the bottom of the scale have been subjected to aggressive intimidation and the full force of the state against them.

Knowing what I do about your own story, I have to believe this does not sit well with you. This is a pivotal moment in the American story, and I sincerely, deeply, hope that you will step up to the occasion and act decisively on the side of people fighting for a better, more just America.

Letter to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon

Dear Governor,

I am writing not as a resident of Missouri, but as a citizen of the United States. I have been following the events unfolding in and around Ferguson these past few months, and I am appalled.

A democracy only works when it has the support and the confidence of all it serves. By moving the Michael Brown investigation into a secret grand jury, then only leaking out selective news bites to serve a particular narrative, you are undermining your own state’s justice system. You are turning one of the cornerstones of American democracy into a system of crowd control, and it disgusts me as an American citizen to witness.

You have one chance left to change course. Instead of following institutional special interests, follow the good of the people you lead. Enough with the grand jury and trying to hide truth in darkness. If you believe in your own country and the strength of its institutions, end the grand jury and let this case go to trial. Let the facts come out in an open forum, and let justice be served for all.

Ferguson, your state, and this country deserve better than the leadership you are showing now. I sincerely hope you are capable of something more.

Brian Haigh

Lowe’s – a Case Study in Lousy Corporate Customer Service

Let me just come right out and say it, I’m absolutely sick of these massive, faceless corporations treating their customers like cattle.

And the worst of the worst is trying to get any kind of customer support from these behemoths. You know the drill, you dial a number, wade through a convoluted phone tree, only to wind up in some unnamed country halfway around the world talking to someone who is only empowered to read from a script, and not actually offer you any real assistance.

Lousy corporate customer service is one of those things I truly despise, but it’s taken a hideous experience with Lowe’s to really push me over the edge. We recently bought a new washer and dryer. We wanted something reliable, efficient, affordable, and as a bonus, made in the USA. So we chose Whirlpool.

The units were installed in early January, and at first they were great. But about three weeks in, we discovered the washer had a slow leak under one of the corners. It was under warranty and it looked like such a minor issue, so we figured getting it fixed would be a piece of cake. Here’s a quick rundown of what happened next:

  1. Call Lowe’s to schedule service appointment. First service appointment is a no-show.
  2. Call Lowe’s to schedule another service appointment, hopefully with a company that will actually show up. Someone comes out this time, determines the rubber seal around the door is the source of leak, orders replacement.
  3. Same person comes back, replaces seal, discovers leak is actually coming from somewhere else and will require another visit. After he leaves we discover the washer door no longer closes easily AND the washer now makes a rhythmic banging sound when it’s spinning. Whatever this guy did, we can’t use the washer now without fear of causing some REAL damage.
  4. Call Lowe’s again, complain about the lousy “repair” job and ask for a replacement. According to the ironclad terms dictated by Whirlpool, they can only authorize that after one more service visit.
  5. The new company is a no-show.

We are now waiting for Whirlpool to “review” this case to determine if it “qualifies” for a replacement machine. Which of course takes 48 hours.

We’ve gone so far off the rails in this country that this completely normal way for a corporation to treat its customers. The bottom line and Wall Street are the only things that matter.

While dealing with Lowe’s, at no point did I ever feel like I was speaking to someone who had any kind of authority to make anything right. They were stuck running through a script that had a single plot. And because the corporation doesn’t empower anyone to actually do anything not in that script, they have no way to handle a machine that was rendered inoperable by one of their own authorized technicians. They don’t have a way to handle service appointments that are no-shows (nor do they seem to have a procedure for booking appointments only with companies committed to showing up).

I’d like to see any of us individuals try and keep a track record like this. Showing up half the time, breaking stuff the other half. We’d all be out of work. 

Contrast this with a company like Nordstrom. They are one of the few major corporations out there that really understands customer service. I once had a problem with an online order, and within minutes of calling to complain about it I was transferred to their corporate office in Seattle. There were no phone trees, no condescending hold messages trying to sell me on how great they are, no jumping through pointless hoops with a customer service robot because of a stupid script. Nordstrom gets it.

Lowe’s doesn’t get it. Whirlpool doesn’t get it. And almost every other corporation out there doesn’t get it either.

PS. after ranting on twitter, the Lowe’s twitter account reached out to me, which I appreciate. But after emailing them with this story, they never bothered to even acknowledge receiving it. This makes their Twitter customer support seem like as big a sham as their regular support channels. Hideous.

Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

I’ve been waiting for the right inspiration to begin updating this site again, and found it in this video from Rebuild the Dream:

Let me start of by saying that I spent my teen years in Fort McMurray, where all this tar sand comes from, and I can vouch for just how dirty the oil extraction process is. Removing oil from the ground requires a lot of energy and resources. It pollutes the air and creates ponds of highly toxic water, and the final product requires yet more processing to become fuel.

Does this mean we should shut down the tar sands? It would be hypocritical to say we should. Our world revolves around oil – not just to power our cars – and until we change that, we are going to need more sources of it. And given the options, it makes sense to get our oil from a stable source like Canada.

But, we need to treat this source of oil with extra caution, and because of that I see no reason at all why it makes any sense to build the Keystone XL pipeline:

Energy independence for the US? No – this pipeline sends the tar sand oil to a processing/shipping port. In other words, it’s for other markets in other countries. The communities with this pipeline in their back yard will shoulder the risk so that multinational companies can make profits selling this stuff to other countries.

Jobs and money for American workers and companies? As this video points out, the number of jobs this produces is negligible and pales in comparison to the environmental risks involved in having this massively long pipeline crossing the country.

If this oil were going to be used to help the United States wean itself off overseas oil, I would be more inclined to support it. If it were going to improve the economy in the United States, I would be more inclined to support it. But to take on the risk of an oil spill in one of several states this thing will go through? To support the bottomline of some multinational megacorp?

Look at the track record in recent history, along the Gulf Coast, in Arkansas, and in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Terrible spills compounded by inept corporate responses, designed to try to cover up the issue with PR and news blackouts more than to actually clean the mess they caused. We’ve had enough oil disasters. No to Keystone XL.


Occupy Building Momentum in 2012

Let’s start the new year off on a positive note. Sure, our government is bought and paid for, our law enforcement seems more intent on stifling dissent than arresting those who hijacked our economy wholesale, and the country is slowly turning more and more into a police state. But there are some glimmers of hope out there, and I credit the Occupy movement with helping to turn things around….


The Bad: While everyone was getting ready to celebrate the new year, President Obama signed into law new provisions that allow for Americans to be detained indefinitely.
Glimmer of Hope: Senator Diane Feinstein has introduced a law to repeal these provisions. It’s called the Due Process Guarantee Act, and as the name cleverly implies, it restores due process for all Americans. It’s still completely shameful that we need a law to restore something that the Constitution and American tradition upholds.

There’s a petition circulating to persuade senators to support this. Sign it!

2. Citizens United

The Bad: This is the Supreme Court ruling that essentially said Corporations are People. It allows corporations to fully participate financially in elections, and means that if you thought the flow of corporate money into politics was bad before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Glimmer of Hope: The cities of Los Angeles and New York both voted to declare that corporations are not people, and the State of Montana’s Supreme Court has also said that corporations are not people. Furthermore, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ted Deutch both are working to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to declare that corporations are not people.

There’s a petition on Senator Sanders’ site that needs the support of as many of us as possible. Sign it.

3. Big Corporations vs Consumers 

The Bad: Well, apart from the fact that large corporations control a disproportionate amount of the GDP of this country, that companies are increasingly listening to their shareholders first, and customers second (or third, or fourth…), AND that thanks to the repeal of Glass-Seagall (I could go on about this one, but it can wait for another post), the large financial institutions went on a gambling binge with our money, lost, got a sweetheart deal from us taxpayers to save them, then headed straight back to the casino to start all over again….
Glimmer of Hope: Bank of America became the first large bank to announce a $5/month debit card fee. However, thanks to the incredible, coordinated outcry from customers, including a massive exodus of consumer accounts to credit unions, Bank of America backed down, and other large banks publicy announced they were abandoning plans to do the same. Last month, Verizon Wireless announced plans to charge a fee for manually processed electronic bill payments. The outcry was swift and furious, and they also backed down.

It’s clear that since Occupy Wall Street protests began in September, the spotlight is shining more and more on the criminal business practices of the financial industry, the increasing wealth gap in this country, and the way our government and large corporations are listening to each other but ignoring the electorate.

The road ahead is difficult, but I’m feeling more and more confident that this movement is going to gain more traction across the country, and have a greater and greater effect on national discourse. Here’s to 2012…

Government of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

Yet another reason why our government seems to be totally out of step with the realities of the 99% living across America today:

House of Representatives Income Breakdown

If it seems like our Congress is catering to the whims of the 1%, it’s because they have more in common with them than they do with us. Take a quick read at The Daily Whatthe collective net worth of our federal lawmakers jumped 25% in TWO YEARS. What recession?

It’s yet another example of how broken and corrupted our system of government is, that you need to be in the wealthiest income percentiles to get elected to office.

And it makes an even stronger case for reforms such as the Saving American Democracy constitutional amendment.

Time for Left & Right to Unite Against Corporate & Government Corruption

It’s time for Americans across the entire political spectrum – left and right – to turn off the talk radio, ignore all the “talking points”, and embrace the core ideals of the Occupiers.

After talking with some Occupy LA protesters one afternoon and reading about the movement online, I began to realize that when you look past the fringe elements, a few common demands begin to take shape: for a return to accountability in government, for corporations to serve their communities as well as their shareholders, and for an end to corruption in our public and private institutions.

These are not the radical demands of hippie freeloaders; this is a common-sense rallying cry for all Americans, liberal and conservative. Our government is broken. Corporations are increasingly focusing on their bottom line at the expense of their customers and the society that supports them. This is not a fight to destroy capitalism – it is a fight to save it.

A recent survey reported that most Occupy sympathizers blame corporations for our current mess, while most of those who do not identify with the movement blame the government. There really is no difference in these points of view. They are flip sides of the same coin, with a common root cause between them. This is why it is so important to ignore media voices that try to drive a wedge between the left and right for the sake of ratings. They are trying to distract us, and despite what they would have us believe, we all want the same thing: a government that is responsive to its citizens. We are Americans, first and foremost, and our country was founded of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is our duty to stand up for our country and demand something better of our institutions.

I am not advocating that everyone should throw away their political beliefs. Each side has different ideas about how to address the problems facing our country, and this healthy exchange of ideas is exactly what makes our democracy so vibrant. But right now we can unite behind a common cause, which is to end the paralysis in our politics, and demand accountability from politicians and corporations to the people they serve.

The Occupy movement embodies a classic conservative principle of individualism: the responsibility each of us has to create a better life for ourselves and our community. I have come to see that the movement is not about demanding handouts. It is about ending handouts to our country’s least-deserving, the so-called 1%. Do not confuse this with a redistribution of wealth. This is about leveling the playing field so our free market system can begin to work again.

Americans, left- or right-wing, need to ask themselves if they are happy with the status quo. If they are unhappy with the free pass our financial institutions have gotten after bringing the global economy to the brink of destruction, if they are unhappy with the record levels of unemployment, and most of all, if they are unhappy with how our politicians have become incapable of doing anything substantial to fix this mess, then they need to support what the Occupy movement is fighting for. They are giving a voice to all our grievances.

Perhaps the greatest gift these occupations have given us is the sense that individuals can still effect change. Ultimately, you may not agree with everything they are saying, but there is no denying that they truly are fighting for all of us and for our country. And through their sheer force of will and dedication, they have become a powerful symbol of what individuals can accomplish together.

Supporting Occupy does not mean giving up bathing and joining a drum circle. It means becoming involved in the political process. It means forcing our politicians (Republican and Democrat) to stop listening to their donors and start listening to mainstream Americans again. It means demanding that CEOs stop seeing their customers as nothing more than dollar signs. Simply put, this movement is about putting citizens back into the driver’s seat.

And if we can make our system start to function again and get our government to listen to people instead of dollars, we can then begin to have a proper, adult debate between liberals and conservatives about the areas in which we disagree, and move forward and prosper again.

Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) – Censorship for the Internet

UPDATE 1:24 PM: It looks like SOPA is on hiatus until 2012, at least. Please read through and still contact your representatives about this law, just in case the committee vote still happens early next year. There’s also a campaign now to contact US senators to ensure they halt their version of the bill.

If I believed in conspiracy theories, I would be building a bomb shelter in my yard this weekend and moving into it. On the heels of the breakup of Occupy camps all over the country, we saw the National Defense Authorization Act get passed in the House and Senate, which includes provisions for jailing anyone without charge if they are suspected of being a terrorist. Now we have SOPA, which would enshrine into law some of the same types of censorship tools used by paragons of liberty such as the Chinese government.

Of course, this is America, and the reasoning behind this law isn’t about political speech, it’s about trying to enhance the profit of large American corporations. I can’t even tell which is worse: the idea of shredding the American Constitution over security fears (NDAA), or shredding it to improve the bottom line of some large corporations (SOPA).

Either way, it’s SHAMEFUL that our elected representatives are so out of touch with reality that they are spending their time on issues such as this. While the vast majority of Americans are struggling just to get by in these horrible times, Washington is cheerfully debating and voting for laws that are dismantling the very foundations of what this country was founded upon. They are spitting on the bodies of everyone who spilled their own blood to protect our way of life.

What’s wrong with SOPA? Here’s a good rundown, but basically one of things it does is force ISPs to add DNS filters to prevent people from accessing websites deemed to be distributing illegal content. Basically, everytime you go to an Internet address (such as, your request goes to a Domain Name Server, which translates that address into actual numeric address of the website. What this law would do is insert a filter into that step so that you would be prevented from every being able to get to any site that is deemed “illegal” under this law.

According to that story linked above, here are some countries currently using this technology to filter out unwanted sites: China, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Armenia, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Burma (Myanmar), Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. That’s some fantastic company we’re keeping.

While it sounds like stopping this is an uphill battle, we cannot give up just yet. Contact your representatives and let them know you think this is a bad idea.

Now I think this is a load of legislative nonsense, a huge waste of dollars creating laws and the infrastructure to support them in order to mollify a small elite of mega corporations complaining about going bankrupt due to piracy while they continue to post record profits. There are way better things we should be spending our energy on apart from appeasing a small group of political donors.

However, if we have to have a new law, then we should be debating OPEN: Online Protection & ENforcement of Digital Trade Act. It’s sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), and is designed to satisfy the anti-piracy requirements of SOPA without resorting to hamfisted censorship techniques. By the way, hat tip to Rep. Issa – most of the time when I see him speak on TV I want to throw something at it, but I applaud his strong, intelligent opposition to SOPA.

The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act Must be Stopped

I could try to give a good background on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but there are articles out there that explain it better than I ever could. Here’s one: Obama’s Most Fateful Decision – go ahead and read it, then hit the back button and come back to this page. I’ll wait.

No, really, go read it. I’ll be here.

Ok, done? You worried for the future of this country yet? This piece of legislation represents the latest in the slippery slope we’ve been on since 9/11. This country has been slowly chipping away its own civil liberties in the pursuit of “security”, and this Act is the final nail in the coffin.

The United States of America, the country that stood strong against the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and fought against itself to end slavery, this shining example of freedom and liberty throughout the world, is now being slowly dismantled and destroyed. Not with bombs and bullets, but by the hands of our own elected representatives.

The provisions of this Act stomp all over the Constitution and give our government the ability to essentially make any American disappear if it perceives a threat. If you think this is an overstatement, ask yourself this: do you really believe any large institution – including our government – won’t do anything in its power to preserve itself and its authority? ALL institutions, public and private, look out for number 1. Just ask the victims of Jerry Sandusky about how Penn State protected them from a predator.

Now ask yourself, how all the countless Americans who fought and died on foreign soil protecting YOUR rights and freedoms would feel, seeing the people they sacrificed for tossing away their liberties like yesterday’s garbage?

This legislation is an insult, a spit in the eye, on all who have sacrificed for this country. It turns its back on this country’s history of standing up for freedom and liberty against all dangers. This legislation would turn America into a police state, so fearful of everything and everyone that its most cherished freedoms are tossed aside.

This is why EVERYONE needs to let their representatives know that they do not support this. There will always be dangers to this country, and there will always be bad people out there trying to take us down. But the fundamental strength of this country is its resilience and resolve in the face of attack. These provisions in the NDAA do not secure this country. They will irreparably harm it.

Contact President Obama and let him know he must veto it.

Contact your representatives and let them know they must fix this NOW. (This link is to the ACLU – not everyone agrees with them, but their page is set up to help you automatically send a note to your elected representative. Very handy.)