Of, By and For the People

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Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

America still hasn’t achieved the democracy that Abe Lincoln’s words revered or that Obama’s campaign hopes nourished.

Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

 

by Paul J Balles

One of the most interesting stories in the history of the United States involved Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.

President Lincoln had a minor role in dedicating a cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the burial of those who had died for the union in the American Civil War.

As is true of many wars, Lincoln had lost popularity as a result of the loss of lives. He was also given a short time to prepare his dedication speech.

After a two-hour oration by Edward Everett, Lincoln’s address took only a few minutes devoted to maintaining support for the war.

Lincoln’s moving address was completed in ten powerful sentences beginning with:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

He then noted briefly their purpose in being there “to … dedicate …a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.”

Lincoln summed up his position by reminding his audience of “…the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

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His conclusion: “–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

President Barack Obama’s presidential ideal has been Abraham Lincoln, the man who made famous the phrase “Of the people, by the people, for the people”.

One can see why the author of that captivating rubric for a democracy would have endless appeal to Obama, a natural icon “of the people”.

Obama is one of the few presidents not from the highest stratosphere of an elite oligarchy, but descendant from ordinary people.

“By the people” informed much of Obama’s rhetoric that stimulated so many people to vote for him. The appeal of his arguments and promises for change earned him the presidency.

Unfortunately, once he got into office, he no longer reflected a government “by the people”. The government, controlled by corporate barons, lobbies and Wall Street, devoured Obama.

Equally pernicious, Obama totally reneged on his promise of change to a government for the people.

The bailouts of his early days in office did not benefit the people.  Help for home owners whose mortgages were being foreclosed would have. Instead the help went to the financial institutions of Wall Street to save them.

The ideals of Lincoln’s of, by and for the people and the unfulfilled promises of Obama have lessons to be learned.

These are the ideals of democracy. The ideals don’t become reality simply by stating them in a speech or by marching with flags and slogans in a demonstration.

They don’t become reality through protests or speeches promising change. As English journalist and novelist Arnold Bennett said, “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”

America still hasn’t achieved the democracy that Abe Lincoln’s words revered or that Obama’s campaign hopes nourished.

One of America’s leading senators, J. William Fulbright, said “It’s unnatural and unhealthy for a nation to be engaged in global crusades for some principle or idea while neglecting the needs of its own people.”

Instead of exerting pressure on others for democracies, America needs to focus on improving its own.

Read more by Paul Balles

 

Cable companies try to woo patrons: ; As more users watch programs online, firms are offering money-back guarantees, better service

Charleston Daily Mail May 24, 2010 | DEBORAH YAO PHILADELPHIA – For far too long, cable customers fumed as they waited in vain for the cable guy to show up. When he did come, sometimes it took multiple visits to fix outages. Some customers grappled with billing mistakes that took months to resolve. And cable prices went up every year.

Now it may be the cable customer’s turn for revenge.

Cable TV operators are trying to treat their customers better. Consumers now can get a 30-day money-back guarantee from at least two major cable companies. Soon subscribers might set specific times for technician visits and get their orders confirmed in writing.

These sound like simple or even obvious steps, but they address longtime complaints about the cable TV business.

Cable companies are forced to do it because of intensifying competition from satellite TV and phone companies that offer video – and from people disconnecting subscription TV services altogether to watch videos online.

And people are leaving. In 2006, cable TV companies had 68.5 million video customers. The number fell to 63.3 million in 2009, according to research firm In-Stat.

“People have a bad opinion of their customer service,” said Mike Paxton, principal analyst at In-Stat. “Until (cable) started losing customers, there was no pressure.” It won’t be easy to change a poor reputation that was captured in a 1996 “Seinfeld” episode in which Kramer retaliates against his cable company by telling the technician he’ll be home between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. but then doesn’t show up. In 2007, a Virginia woman was so upset at Comcast Corp.’s customer service that she smashed a keyboard with a hammer in a Comcast service center.

Cable’s customer satisfaction ratings have been among the worst of any industry. In the American Customer Satisfaction Index, based on surveys of U.S. households, the four largest cable TV providers – Comcast, Time Warner Cable Inc., Cox Communications Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. – have averaged 59 on a scale of 1 to 100 since 2004, even with some improvement in this year’s figures. In the last comparable rankings, cable TV came in below airlines, a business with byzantine fare rules, new fees for baggage and horror stories of passengers trapped for hours on planes. web site comcast service center

First cable TV companies tried appealing to customers with discounts. Although overall cable service prices were rising, the companies offered bundles of TV, Internet and phone plans, and threw in some freebies and other promotions. But that only slowed customer defections and didn’t halt them.

Now cable companies are trying to do more.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable TV provider, is making incremental changes that it hopes will collectively improve its reputation. It’s offering a 30-day money-back guarantee on all services to unhappy customers and a $20 credit if the technician shows up late, even if he had called to say he’d be late. It also is testing a service that lets customers call to get the technician’s estimated time of arrival.

Embarrassing snafus such as the hammer incident prompted Comcast to undergo a top-to-bottom assessment of its customer service. Tina Waters, who was named Comcast’s first senior vice president of human performance last November, says one-quarter of service agents’ performance reviews are now devoted to customer feedback. website comcast service center

Cox, the country’s third-largest cable company, is testing the idea of letting customers set service appointments at specific times rather than two-hour windows. The trial is limited to New England and only for the first appointment of the day, at 8 a.m. If successful, the service will be rolled out nationally and eventually to cover the entire day.

“No more scribbled notes on a pad by the phone,” said spokeswoman Anita Lamont.

That would be welcome news to Marc Pachtman, a lawyer in Boothwyn, Pa., who tussled with Comcast for about 10 months over several issues, including charges on his bill that were higher than the cable package he thought he ordered.

Pachtman said he was charged $51 for cable TV and $46 for Internet after being told it would be $45 for TV and $35 for Internet. He also paid $42 a month for phone service, but Comcast got that right. Eventually, after several calls to Comcast, he got a refund and a six-month promotional plan that combined TV, Internet and phone services for $94 a month, down from around $140 he had been paying.

“I had to do a lot of jumping up and down,” Pachtman said. “If they would be forced to confirm things in writing, it should standardize their programs to the point so there’s no variation to what customer representatives can say.” It doesn’t help that while there are Federal Communications Commission standards for cable customer service, other cable regulations vary based on who is enforcing them. Depending on the location, that could be a state commission, a city council or another body.

Such inconsistent standards, and a near-monopoly on TV service in the areas that cable companies serve, have let them get away with treating customers indifferently for years. The FCC requires cable companies to tell customers if their rates are going up – but that can come in a notice in a local newspaper.

“Practically speaking, nobody reads that stuff,” said Ken Fellman, president of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, which represents local officials.

Recently, though, cable companies such as Comcast, Charter and Time Warner Cable have been reaching out to customers through Twitter and other social networking sites to find complaints and resolve problems.

That impressed Steve Curtin of Denver, who tweeted about his Comcast Internet service conking out last spring before calling the cable company. A cable agent reached out to him and got him back online within half an hour.

“I was quite surprised,” he said.

AP-ES-05-23-10 1248EDT DEBORAH YAO

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