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The tragedy of America

It is alarmingly clear to see the demise of America, slipping away from its once dominant position in the world.
On so may levels we see evidence of the erosion of economic dominance, the increasing fragility of financial stability, the breakdown of law and order.
What is most prominent of all, and clear for all to see around the world, is the fundamental failure of leadership in Washington. And if that is not alarming enough, there is a lack of national appetite to change the status quo. American politics is polarised in a way that is crippling any rational democtatic debate. 

Never, in the history of the United States, has the President been so consistently and openly untruthful with the public and so dismissive of those who would defend the principles of democracy in that country.

What we are seeing is the fall from greatness of the richest and most powerful country on earth. 

Why is there no effective resistance to this trend? Why are Republicans so unwilling to call out a man who is responsible for the humiliation of their country on the world stage? How can they abide a leader in their name who is a pathological narcissist with no interest in the welfare of the country that he is charged with leading and no interest in the its people, save their voting intentions at the next poll.

An outsider is led to the conclusion that morals and ethics, even intelligence, is no longer recognisable in the American political debate. Surely the blind prejudice in political behaviour is rooted in ignorance. Surely, many are manipulated because they are uninformed or misinformed of the facts upon which they make political judgments. Is the news of current events so badly reported, or is there no appetite to know the facts.

At a time in history when we have such immediate access to unlimited amounts of information, there is evidence that large numbers of people, particularly younger people, are uninformed or worse, disconnected from reliable information upon which their judgments are made and upon which ultimately the quality of their democracy relies.

Those who live in countries of the world where information is not freely available, but censored, must wonder at the opportunities made freely available to Americans being squandered without thought of the consequences of their ignorance.

Victorian Democracy in a Covid crisis

Living in a first world democracy gives us freedoms that we all take for granted. In Australia we are particularly fortunate to enjoy democracy in its most liberal form. That is, if you don’t live in Victoria, and particularly in metropolitan Melbourne during the current stage 4 lockdown with all its restrictions imposed by our Premier, Dan Andrews, and sold to us as advice from the Chief Health Officer.

imageAndrews made some bad decisions early in the first round of the Covid19 Australia-wide lockdowns. He or his ministers, and here no-one wants to own up and take responsibility, decided to ignore the offer of ADF support to secure incoming travellers quarantined in hotels in Melbourne. Instead they made snap decisions to engage private security firms who then subcontracted the tasks. In many cases they were performed by people who had little or no experience for the tasks, and worse, they were given no training and inadequate PPE to do the job.

As a result, active cases of Covid19 spiralled in Melbourne, and Andrews, who then blamed the public for undisciplined behaviour, imposed stage 4 restrictions which have resulted in Melbournians being subjected to the toughest lockdown in the world.

But worse, despite the pleas from business owners, large and small, industry group leaders, community group leaders, and senior political figures, both Federal and State, Andrews shows no interest in any of it and continues to lecture all who engage, on the need for us to observe the wisdom of the sanctions imposed on us.

What is really scary is that the checks and balances of our normal democracy are largely missing. Having declared a state of emergency and reinforced the additional powers with the declaration of a state of disaster, our Premier is largely unaccountable. To anyone!

Let’s hypothesise that Andrews is unwell, mentally. And you could understand someone currently in the front line of government, working night and day, for weeks and months on end, under huge pressure, cracking up. In Andrews case, he has seen what was the enviable position of our state after the first round of lockdown deteriorate so far, so fast, that we have become the basket case of Australia. And all this under his uncompromising leadership. No-one else to blame it on. Following this scenario, we have a leader whose judgement is flawed but who continues, unchecked, to impose his will on this corner of Australia without any mechanism for relief or correction.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “insane”  as “a state of mind which prevents normal perception, behaviour, or social interaction”. Arguably our Premier’s recent decisions and behaviour could well be described as fitting comfortably within this definition. Many relevant and highly qualified professionals agree that the roadmap, including its targets, are irrational. But the Premier will not engage in any discussion or compromise.

Alarmingly, our democracy is currently unable to respond at a time of unprecedented need and urgency.

Telstra at it again

You’ve got to love Telstra (NOT) !

A few days ago I received an email from Telstra in relation to my current mobile plan.

Currently I pay $50 per month for 60gb, plus $5 per month for attaching an Apple watch to the service.

So Telstra have offered to increase the monthly charge to $65 (presumably with an added $5 for my Apple Watch connection) and give me 80gb per month, which I have no use for. So that’s a 30% increase in the monthly charge!

Telstra say that this is part of its “commitment to simplifying its products”. Not even remotely honest!

To blur the issue they are offering a discount on the new plan of $5 per month for 12 months. That would reduce the increase from 30% to 20%. Whoopee!

Alternatively, it appears I can remain on a plan at the current cost, with 40gb data allowance but no access to 5g. That’s a decrease of 33% from the current data allowance, for the same money!

This isn’t an optional plan. Rather, unless I cancel the current service, or move to the lower plan, the cost of my monthly plan with Telstra WILL be increased next month without further notice.

And Telstra have the gall to describe this as “its commitment to simplifying its products”, rather than “Major price hike coming”.

Well at least they got the heading right .. “YOUR MOBILE PLAN IS CHANGING”.

Is Telstra broken or just disconnected ?

Having dealt with the major operators over many years, I have a jaundiced view of their advertising. The bold claims about customer focus and pursuit of excellence do not resonate with my own customer experience. Not in business and not as a residential customer.

In fact the very thought of making contact with customer service at Telstra raises the blood pressure and the call that follows often includes an apology to the operator who is only doing their job. For me the frustration builds during the 30 to 60 minutes which is the typical time taken to resolve even a simple issue.

  • from the often protracted exchange with an inflexible and often inadequate list of options to get to the right area
  • the cheerful but moronic voice asking for spoken explanation of the reason for the call
  • the excruciating invitations to download the Telstra app to resolve my question
  • the tedious elevator music that reminds me of the robotic system that is managing the call
  • contact with an operator located somewhere in the Asia/Pacific region who has little or no local knowledge and even less discretionary authority
  • the obsessive interrogation under the auspices of protecting my privacy, that includes sending me a text message which I must then look up, read, and relay the number sent to me
  • the transfer to other departments because the call has not reached the right operator
  • the repeated interrogation to prove my identity despite being transferred by and introduced by their own representative
  • the insistence by the polite and helpful operator that she has rectified the problem. It will not happen again
  • and if that’s not enough, the call is not infrequently disconnected within Telstra and I am taunted with a recorded message asking if my enquiry was resolved and asking me to rate the service I received. I am then faced with starting all over again.
  • One last thing that happened to me recently twice in one day in relation to calls for both business and residential accounts. I rang the number shown at the top of the relevant Telstra account and after being put through to a representative, attending to the privacy protocols, and quoting the account number I was told that they could not help me with that account as it related to the other side of Telstra. Really ?

But often the problem hasn’t been resolved. In the case of billing issues, the credit doesn’t appear on the next statement. Or the same error in charging is repeated. Or the technician who would follow up the problem, hasn’t.

And where is management ? Missing! Unreachable! Hiding behind the skirts of customer service! And this is a huge part of my frustration in dealing with the likes of (but certainly not limited to) Telstra. Going back in time the customer always had the opportunity to speak to a supervisor. And if that didn’t satisfy then one could always look up the phone book and ring someone in authority the vent your frustrations with a view to getting satisfaction. It was called accountability and I’m sure that it was a lot more effective means of keeping management informed about the issues faced by customers and the improvement required. But that is done now by management reading well worded reports resulting from endless focus groups. I know something of this since I was part of the management of a major market research company that ran those focus groups and provided those reports.

It seems to me that the concept of customer service is broken and “all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put humpty together again”. Back in the dark ages of customer service it was common practice to send a letter or make a note on the bill of a disputed charge and mail it to the company with the cheque. Nowadays, with the convenience of BPAY we don’t have to mail anything. But have you tried sending a letter about a complaint? Well it might be a whole lot faster than telephoning customer service but, even if you knew where to send it, it would be wholly ignored. And as for telephoning someone in authority at Telstra (or any other major organization), it is made almost impossible to find a contact number and get through the customer service barrier wall that these companies hide behind.

The internet has been a wonderful addition to modern life in so many ways and the advances in consumer technology have given us many benefits. But large organizations like Telstra have seemingly lost their way and misused the opportunity to get closer to their customers. Sure it is that for all the technology available to them their relationships with customers has never been worse.

I believe that the only way that large organizations can improve their customer relationships is by talking directly with their customers. An organization that understands the customer experience and the likes and frustrations of customers is an organization that is half way to satisfying its customers. This is a commitment for all levels of management investing significant and regular  time in direct communication with their customers. Management can then become the focus groups!