Monday, November 24, 2008

Week of 11/24/2008

Is It Too Much To Ask?

As I sat in my hotel room pondering what I should write about for this week’s column, a single thought kept on creeping into my head:

Is it too much to ask that a hotel deliver what they promise?

This week I’m out visiting relatives. I don’t like to travel, but I was convinced to go up north and visit family. So I did, and all the while I kept on insisting that my hotel room have Internet access. I was told that every room has it.

So I get here and sure enough… no Internet! The front desk apologizes profusely and says they’ll have someone over in the morning to fix it. Later that day, still no Internet. Again they apologize profusely and says they sent someone over to reset their access point, only they can’t “find it”.

It’s not rocket science we’re talking about. Resetting an access point is about as simple as turning the device off and then turning it back on. And if they can’t “find it”, then either the person they sent had no idea what to look for – which is an easy fix too – or the device itself has been stolen. The latter of which would require a police report and replacing the device at a tech store just down the street.

But, seriously, if you promise a service and it isn’t in that room, why not just offer to change rooms with one that HAS it? (That is what they ended up doing, by the way.) Bear in mind that this was my ONE requirement. If I knew going into it that they didn’t have Internet access, I would have gone elsewhere. It’s that simple.

Is that too much to ask? Seriously. Is it?

Then again, that seems to be par for the rest of the business world.

Look at the airlines. We bailed their sorry asses out after 9/11, and if anything their treatment of the very customers that paid for that bailout has gotten far worse.

Everything on that previously “insanely-low” fare costs extra. If you bring luggage, that costs extra. If you want the little thimble of soda, that costs extra. You want the plane to land? That costs extra. You want a seat? That costs extra.

And that is on top of being held hostage in the plane with super-long delays from the airport, going through a police zone that rivals most maximum security prisons, being bumped because of overbooking, and, oh yeah, if you wear something that the flight attendants find “offensive” they can kick you off the flight as well.

You know, guys, it just makes you want to take the train… or take a bus… or even hitchhike. You’ll probably even get there faster.

Is it REALLY too much to ask that the airline have just ONE COST for everything? JUST ONE! Luggage, flight, plane, wings, wheels, takeoff AND landing, fuel... we can tolerate a few delays and the surly joyless prudes that call themselves flight attendants as long as they stop serving as our fashion police. Remember, we’re the ones that are paying for your bailout, and you are currently giving us NO REASONS whatsoever to continue to support you!

Is that too much to ask for?

Phone companies love to push all of these different features on cellphones. Now cellphones can take pictures, hold video, save music, surf the Internet, play games, send text message… but they still haven’t done anything for the annoyances we have to put up with. They continue to sell our personal information to private companies without our permission and then tell us afterwards that we need to opt-out if we don’t want them to.

Sure they offer all sorts of programs to “help” us, like caller ID and voice mail, but at the same time they REFUSE to deal with the problem concerning telemarketers and junk fax senders. They offer you the ability to block SOME numbers, but then the phone company says that you can’t block the 800-numbers that telemarketers use, or they can’t block any number not in your “calling area”. And the telemarketers use devices to spoof phone numbers to get around Caller ID.

The solution here is crystal clear. Give US the power to block ANY NUMBER we wish and to forbid any spoofing of caller ID numbers. ANY number. Doesn’t matter if they’re in our calling area or not. Normal number, long distance, toll free, ANY NUMBER. And don’t limit us to only a handful of numbers because there are too many telemarketers for the phone companies to start playing that game. That will take care of both telemarketers AND junk fax senders.

Is that too much to ask? Seriously. Is it?

Lenders are advertising for cheap credit. No down payments. No credit history. They are running ads with some dork in a tie rubber-stamping loan applications like crazy. And then they turn around and they beg the federal government for bailout money! What’s wrong with this picture? Or they advertise it and then give you a hard time when you actually TRY to get it. You know, what normally would be prosecuted as FALSE ADVERTISING.

Hey, here’s a novel concept: how about not running the ads telling people that you’ll give money to anyone if you’re really not going to? How about that? Is that too much to ask?

Is it too much to ask that companies that get bailout money from the federal government NOT take their execs on a posh luxury retreat? Or give themselves fat stinking bonuses? This is especially true when these executives turn around and tell the employees that they can’t afford so much as a holiday get-together, oh, and they may or may not be able to pay for the pension fund.

Is it too much to ask? I mean, it’s not like you’re losing your mansions and yachts, right?

Here’s an eternal question I ask of stores…

Is it too much to ask that they hold off on dragging out the holiday material until Thanksgiving? Or even just around Thanksgiving? It doesn’t have to be ON that day.

I go visit the local store, be it Wal-Mart or Target or any of the other big names, and while they may have Halloween items up in the seasonal section, they have the Christmas trees and ornaments just lurking around like a crouching mad dog, just WAITING to pounce on you when you least expect it.

Yes, we know that the Holidays are your big money-making season. We know that you LOVE the Holidays because it means that you get to make up for the crappy sales for the rest of the year… or at least in theory. (We’ll see if that holds true this year with our current economy.) But do you really have to stalk us like that? Do you have to have the Christmas Creep around Halloween? Yes we KNOW it’s just around the corner… but you don’t have to physically demonstrate it to us.

Worse yet is when they DO put up the holiday stuff right after Halloween and they crank up the holiday music. I live in Atlanta; it JUST got cold enough for the heat to come on. Why do I need to hear “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow” when I’m still walking around in short-sleeves and the leaves are just starting to turn?

Is it too much to ask that you guys wait a few weeks? Seriously. Is it?

Here’s one that I find really annoying… computer support.

Is it too much to ask that a support person NOT take you through the chain of processes if they know the problem is on their end? Let’s your Internet service goes down. You call support, asking about whether or not there is a local problem with the system. It worked before, but it’s not working now. They go over their laundry list of things for you to do thinking that the problem is on YOUR end, and that usually takes about an hour to go through. Shut down, unplug, reboot, check again, check one more time, dig here and dig there. It’s only after they have exhausted the list that they do a quick look up and they say “Oh, sorry, we found out that your area is having problems and they’re working on it.” Well then why didn’t you SAY SO in the first place? That would have saved me an hour of wasted time plugging and unplugging and rebooting and checking every setting that I had already done three times BEFORE I made the call!

How hard is it to check the status board to see if there is already a problem before going through the laundry list of activities with the caller? It takes you thirty seconds to check. It can take a person up to five minutes to completely shut down and reboot their computer, and you’re having them do that at least twice!

I know we’re dealing with people from third world nations and they’re reading from a prepared script, but how hard is it to include in that script a quick check to make sure that the problem isn’t regional? “What sort of problem is it? Let me check really quick to make sure this isn’t on our end.”

Is it really too much to ask?

Let’s get brutally honest here… a lot of these little things are seemingly little or petty but they go towards the general perspective of how businesses treat their customers. They continually treat customers as fools, idiots, mindless myrmidons that will do whatever they are told to do.

And sometimes they do get away with it. Sometimes we the mindless masses really do live up to the stereotype. We do mindless things. We buy things because some advertiser gave us a cute jingle or catchy slogan or because they stuck a flat-belly model in front of it. Sometimes we aren’t looking where we throw our money towards. But that doesn’t mean that we do so ALL of the time!

Do you know what the secret to a really great con is? It’s making them feel like you really DO care about them. It’s about giving them the little things that makes them feel like they matter. As long as they feel like they matter, they won’t think that they’re being taken for a ride.

So the next time someone comes up with a little suggestion and they ask “Is it too much to ask”, you better make sure that the answer is “no, it is not” and then work on getting it done. It could quite literally spell the difference between a bad sale and a good one.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Week of 11/17/2008

Our Fickle Economy
– by David Matthews 2

“Luck be like a lady”, as the old Vegas song goes.

Unfortunately more often then naught, luck IS very much like a lady… and a fickle one at that. Fickle, cranky, self-absorbed, and scornful when feeling neglected. Gracious at first, but vindictive and manipulative once she gets to know you. That’s why gambling addicts run into a mean losing streak. Luck is gracious and generous at first to them. But then luck is fickle and vindictive and makes sure that you lose more than you gain so you can never get back to those early times when you were prospering.

Even sadder still, our economy is the same way. When propped up and supported, our economy can be very generous. But when feeling used and manipulated, our economy is a real bitch.

The biggest fallacy being made by those in government is that they are responsible for all of the economic good times that occur. That of course is far from the truth. They do have some influence, and they can manipulate certain environments that can have a positive or negative effect on the economy, but they are far from being the MASTERS of the economy. If that really were the case, then they would be doing everything in their power to make sure there are no economic down turns, especially at the end of a president’s tenure.

The President of the United States and the men and women that make up both house of Congress are not solely responsible for the rise or fall of the economy, but they are responsible, along with governments large and small, for creating environments that can either foster economic growth or hinder it.

Let’s look at what’s been going on with our economy in recent years.

The best way to describe our economy over the past eight years has been “forced”. The mini-recession of 2000 and 2001 started in 1998 when the economy tried to recover from the excesses of the “Dot-Com” boom. The Federal Reserve started cutting interest rates to try to offset the loss of jobs and business opportunities, but it didn’t work.

The Bush Imperium thought that handing out money would kick-start the economy, so they did that, and they gave tax cuts to the upper-echelons and told them to invest. 9/11 forced even more money being spent to bail out the airlines and to encourage us to spend like there was no tomorrow.

But during that whole process, there really wasn’t any effort to fix any of the underlying problems with the economy.

Job growth didn’t keep up with the demands of the economy. Real wages crawled compared to the profits of corporations. Companies didn’t create jobs. Instead they outsourced their jobs to other nations. Even the corporate failures of 2001 and 2002 with Enron and WorldCom and the others didn’t address the underlying problem with corporate priorities.

Mergers happened. Big banks became mega-banks. Mega-banks became monopolist banks. Big corporations bought out their competition instead of trying to outdo them in the market.

And the government saw nothing wrong with any of that as long as they reported record profits. “Do what you want,” they told Big Business, “just don’t go under.”

Yes there was a surge in housing prices as well as a surge in new houses built, but that was a forced situation. Lenders took advantage of low interest rates and the elimination of banking rules to talk people into refinancing their loans to the kind that would later hurt them. Sure, defenders of the subprime loans would tell you that they allowed loans to be made available for more Americans that would otherwise not have the opportunity to get their own homes. But what they do NOT tell you is that many of the people who ended up getting talked INTO those subprime loans were already eligible to get NORMAL loans. In fact it came out that realtors were encouraged by lenders to steer their clients towards getting subprime loans, even if they could afford normal ones.

That set up a dangerous situation with the banks, and there were plenty of people that warned that it would happen. All it would take is a little time and the rising of interest rates for the trap to be sprung. And that’s exactly what happened.

The push to build new homes and reinvest and increase one’s home value through expansion and home improvements created a price bubble that local governments and realtors and lenders foolishly believed could go on forever and ever. It didn’t.

Here’s the problem: developers were buying huge plots of land, stripping them down, and having builders build homes and shopping centers and office complexes, thinking that the buyers would just show up and buy them. And local governments approved them blindly, envisioning the oodles of property tax monies that would come into their coffers. They didn’t think that there would be a saturation point to all of that growth.

What happens when people stop buying the houses being built? Or when they can’t afford to make the mortgage payments? The bubble bursts.

Even worse, THIS was the truth source of the “growth” in our economy. The so-called “happy days” for Americans in these Double-O’s came through the housing bubble. It allowed them to take loans out on the overinflated values of their homes and used that to supplement their income. It was a short-term fix that was doomed to fail because there was nothing else sustaining it. It was the market’s version of cocaine; a quick rush but then a hard fall awaits.

But what else went unfinished? Our energy resources were being abysmally managed. You can thank Enron for some of that, because they lobbied Congress to give themselves more and more power and more and more control over energy resources and influencing market prices. Futures speculators now outnumber actual energy companies in the stock market by a ratio of two-to-one! Now FEAR is the major factor in energy prices.

But there was more than just market fear-mongering. Nobody did anything to better manage our resources. No new refineries, no replacement of pipelines, no new places to drill, and no drop in the amount of oil from foreign sources. In fact, if anything, we continued to get more and more oil from places that don’t really like us. That GAVE the speculators reasons to panic and drive the prices up even higher. The automakers didn’t pay attention to the rising prices either, and now they’re in a freefall.

We have poor management of the airlines. Rising energy prices added to their financial problems. More flights at crowded airports, incompetence and mismanagement at the airports over those added flights, and then poor service to go along with it. Now we have airlines that can’t afford to fly you from Point A to Point B without tacking on a fee for EVERYTHING, including the luggage you have, AND possibly postponing you from leaving through excessive delays, if they don’t first bump you from the flight because they overbooked it or kick you off the flight for wearing anything they find offensive.

And I cannot forget to mention the changes that were made to banking rules and to bankruptcy rules, both of which were done at the height of the forced “growth”, and without too much thought put into the consequences to making those changes.

We were encouraged to spend beyond our means. We were encouraged to put more and more of our lives on debit, taking our lead from our own government. And then once they have us hooked, then they started putting the screws to us until we broke.

Let’s get brutally honest here… ALL of those things contributed to the state of the economy we are in right now, with unemployment and foreclosures soaring, and everyone wanting and needing a bailout.

So what will it take to get out of this mess?

Well for starters, we need to give this economy some time to be miserable. The bleed has only just begun. There will be more foreclosures and more failures and more layoffs. I wish it were otherwise, but it needs to happen before we can move on.

The government can help with the subprime mortgages, but they have to convert them to NORMAL mortgages; they can’t simply let the banks continue the bad practices. They also have to step in and reign in the abusive practices of the banks.

Companies need to be encouraged to invest in their employees again instead of treating them as hostile participants or parasites. Stop the outsourcing, especially to foreign nations. The government can step in and stop the abuse of the visa system that has allowed corporations to bring in cheaper workers into this country.

Our resources need to be better managed. The loophole that Enron created to give themselves power and wealth needs to die like its CEO did, suddenly and in disgrace. But the actual resources that we have now need to be better managed as well. We need new refineries, new pipelines, more domestic production, but also we need to get the alternatives implemented and marketed. The time for talking and for researching has long since expired. We need these alternatives moved into production NOW.

Airlines need to be better managed. The fees need to end. The abusive treatment of the passengers, either in waiting times or in service, needs to come to an immediate end. And if it means that airlines have to collapse, then so be it. Let them fall.

Our government needs to abandon the concept that ANY business is simply “too big to fail”. Businesses need to succeed or fail on their own, no matter how “big” they are, so they will know what works and what doesn’t.

In short, folks, if our economy is like a lady, then we need to treat it like a lady and not like a whore.

If that analogy seems shocking to you, then understand that it is precisely how our government and how the business world has treated the economy, as well as treated the workers and the customers. They have treated all three like a bunch of cheap whores that will take care of them come rain or shine without any hesitation, and that is simply unacceptable.

Changing players in government is but a start to weathering our economy back into its good graces. There needs to be a chance in attitude amongst those in the business world as well. Instead of finding new ways to use and manipulate us, the business world needs to earn back our trust and our confidence before we will give them a second chance.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Week of 11/10/2008

Palin the Scapegoat
– by David Matthews 2

Hey, did you hear the latest joke about Governor Sarah Palin?

Sarah Palin is so dumb she didn’t know that Africa was a continent and not a country!

She’s so dumb she thinks that NAFTA is some kind of European sports car!

She’s so ignorant she thinks that Katie Couric was still host of the Today show.

She’s so vain she probably thinks that this song is about her.

She’s so…

She’s so…

Okay, I’m going to stop right here because it’s just not funny anymore.

Alaska’s governor and new VP wannabe Sarah Palin has gone back to the tundra after a few weeks of living the dream of possibly becoming the second most powerful person in America. And following her like the flu is a sea of misery coming from those that used to sing her praises.

Ever since the Republicans lost what they themselves have painted as an extremely caustic presidential election, they have been looking for a solid reason WHY they lost. They’d like to blame it on voter fraud by groups like ACORN. They’d like to blame it on the liberal media for refusing to focus on what THEY told the media to focus on. They’d like to blame it on the voters for being too stupid or too brainwashed to know any better.

But when they have exhausted all of the external reasons why they lost, and they can’t obviously blame THEMSELVES, they need a scapegoat. They need someone to take the fall for their own incompetence, so why not just blame it on the new girl?

Thus we have all of these scandalous stories about Palin as being this political pop diva that cares more about clothes than the campaign. Witness some of these juicy tidbits worthy of the gossip columns:

* Palin supposedly didn’t know that Africa was a continent and not a country. Palin reportedly asked if South Africa was just part of the “country” of Africa.

* Palin supposedly didn’t know the countries involved with the North American Free Trade Agreement (US, Canada, and Mexico).

* Palin supposedly didn’t prepare at all for her interview with Katie Couric in which she fumbled on some really simple questions such as what newspapers she reads and which Supreme Court decisions she has ever heard about other than Roe v. Wade. Earlier that year, Palin had issued a statement objecting to the Supreme Court decision concerning the Exxon Valdez disaster, but somehow she forgot about that in the CBS interview. Palin then blamed her staff for her perceived lack of intelligence.

* Palin was supposedly prone to tantrums when faced with negative press coverage, and her tantrums reportedly drove her staff to tears.

* Palin’s shopping spree, described by one GOP member as “Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast”, was supposedly far worse than the media reported it to be, with the Governor’s whole family getting new duds, and that she had forced low-level staffers to make purchases on their credit cards, which she had the GOP reimburse. This was all supposedly kept from Senator McCain for fear that it might drive him to an early grave.

* Palin supposedly decided to use the William Ayers attack long before the campaign officials signed off on the tactic, and that McCain himself had opposed the tactic, believing it would backfire on them just as the earlier attacks on Reverend Wright had failed.

* Palin and McCain reportedly had very little contact with each other during the campaign, and she had reportedly wanted to issue her own concession speech, but it was vetoed.

* GOP lawyers were reportedly dispatched to Alaska to seize all of the clothes purchased by the Palin family during the convention, making good on the announced promise when the story first broke that all of the expensive clothes purchased would go to charity.

* And finally, the juicy 1-900-style story in Newsweek that said that Palin had reportedly greeted McCain thinkers Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter during the GOP convention wearing nothing but a towel. And for more juicy details of that steamy two-on-one encounter, please have your credit card ready along with proof of age. Just kidding. That towel-thing was supposedly as “naughty” as it got.

Boy that just makes you wonder what the Republicans were thinking when they tapped her, huh? Or… did they even think at all? Maybe they just were hoping that Ashton Kurchter would come out from behind the corner to tell them that they’ve just been “Punk’d”.

But, you know, I can’t help but feel sorry for Governor Palin, and I mean that in all sincerity. Here’s this Generation-X woman who was essentially given a Cinderella opportunity by a political party notorious for backing old rich white guys. She gives it her all, she tries her darnedest to help her guy win, and then as she tucks tail and heads back to Alaska there are all of these really nasty things that have come out about her that, even if they are false, she really can’t defend against.

And worse yet, they’re coming from people who were supposedly on her side! I mean, hey, I may have my disagreements with Governor Palin. I may contribute to the “Caribou Barbie” jokes and be willing to watch all those spoofs about her (including the salacious ones that do require proof of age), but I’m doing so from the outside. My disagreements are made in public.

According to one source, many of the nasty behind-the-scenes moments were being leaked to the media by McCain Campaign workers that previously worked for former governor and presidential wannabe Mitt Romney. And the reason behind this alleged “scorched party” policy is to discredit Palin’s credibility for a 2012 or 2016 campaign and thus increase Romney’s chances of securing the future nomination. If it is true, then not only are these attacks petty, but they’re done for equally petty reasons.

Let’s get brutally honest here… if I didn’t already have even a modicum of disgust for the Republican Party for what it has become prior to this 2008 Election, they eagerly earned it today with their post-election antics and with making Sarah Palin the scapegoat to their failures.

John McCain’s campaign had plenty of flaws to it, with many of them coming from his surrogates… the very support people who are now throwing Palin under the proverbial bus. How can we not forget the time when a McCain surrogate tried to claim that the Senator was responsible for the invention of the Blackberry? Or when McCain’s “trusted friend” and economic advisor called America a “nation of whiners”? Or when another surrogate tried to claim that Barack Obama wasn’t fit to run a company, and then made it sound like McCain was also not fit to run a company? Do these all sound like people that have their bearings straight?

Let’s not forget that McCain’s whole campaign was on the verge of insolvency from the start of the primary season, and he was almost forced to bow out if not for the fact that he started to win in certain states and the more popular candidates started to bow out first. Does that sound like a “flawless” campaign to you?

And how about the “crème de la crème” of boneheaded arguments: that women who supported Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign should switch parties and support the McCain-Palin campaign just because Sarah Palin is a woman! Come on! How pathetic is that? How DESPERATE is that?

Then there are the flaws that McCain himself made. The whole “Bomb Iran” moment, the suspension of his campaign to supposedly “fix” the economy, his flip-flopping on showing up at one of only three debates, his assertion (thanks to his “nation of whiners” advisor) that “the fundamentals of our economy are sound” while the nation was thinking otherwise, not knowing how many houses he owns, and even catering to the moralists while at the same time showing up at Sturgis and offering to enter his wife in a biker beauty contest that is often rated NC-17.

All of these things, and that’s not even mentioning “Joe the Plumber”, contributed to McCain’s Election Day loss, and they are things that his people certainly cannot blame on Sarah Palin, because she wasn’t even around for most of them! So stop trying to act like she was the sole reason why the campaign failed, because it obviously was flawed long before anyone in the “lower forty-eight” ever heard about her, never mind thought that she would be good for something other than being a charming companion for moose hunting.

The truth of the matter is that John McCain and his merry band of “Straight Talk” experts, surrogates, and advisors was the gang that couldn’t shoot straight in this election. The stories of the actual “Straight Talk Express” bus either running out of gas or getting involved in an accident were perhaps more than just ironic; they were a harbinger for what the campaign itself was going through. And rather than wasting time spilling the beans about what the new girl in the game was doing, both the campaign participants as well as the whole damned Republican Party in general need to take responsibility for their own failures and work to correct them before the next election. Only then can they begin to redeem themselves in the eyes of the voters.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Week of 11/03/2008

If I Had A Magic Wand…
– by David Matthews 2

One of the more lesser instances of “Bushism”, notorious quotes of President George W. Bush, was when our Doofus-in-Chief said “Believe me, if I had a magic wand, I would wave it and have gas prices go down tomorrow. But I can’t.”

Of course what he failed to mention was that HE DID have a “magic wand” of sorts. In fact he had several of them, actually. He had a filibuster-proof GOP majority. He had the power of FEAR, as invoked by the powerful chant “9/11”. He had the power of “executive orders” and the power of “signing statements”. Those are some pretty powerful wands at his disposal and he used them for his own gains. He just chose to not deal with gas prices until it became a serious problem in the media.

It’s would be nice, of course, if we had some kind of great cosmic blue pencil, some great and powerful magic wand that could fix the problems of our society. So I figured now would be the perfect time to step aside from the talk about politics and sort of daydream about what I could fix if I had that “magic wand”.

Now let’s get brutally honest here… I’m not saying that some of these problems can’t be resolved any other way. Nor am I saying that the ideas I propose if I HAD this “magic wand” could actually work. This is just idle speculation on my part, and of course you’re more than welcome to chime in afterwards.

So here we go… If I had a magic wand…

* I would convert ALL automobiles to an alternative fuel system. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, there is no future with oil. It is not an infinite source of power, it is in parts of the world too unstable to rely upon for the time of day much less prompt production, and for far too long, especially here in the United States, we have languished in the relative cheap costs, and we have allowed special interest groups like the environmentalists to make it even harder to keep the costs contained. My hypothetical magic wand would cut all of the red tape and the special interest blockades and make an alternative fuel system a reality so that people would be on the path towards energy independence. I wouldn’t give them complete energy independence, but I would certainly give them a major boost on it so that the rest would naturally follow.

* I would impose the FairTax Plan exactly as proposed. I really think that this is the only way that the idea outlined in the book by the same name would be able to be imposed and work. Instead of having a myriad of tax systems and tax breaks and tax loopholes and exceptions and exemptions and deductions and being so confusing that even a tax expert couldn’t figure it all out even WITH all of the books, I would get rid of ALL of them and have just ONE consumption tax along with the prebate. You tax spending, not income. You tax the trappings of wealth, not the acquiring of money. And the prebate would negate the tax that would be placed on the basic needs of society, so the poor and middle-class would zero things out. It’s not a perfect system, but it would be far more productive and far easier to manage than the current system ever could be.

* I would require Caller ID on ALL phone calls so they MUST display the phone number dialed. I would outlaw ALL “phone spoofing” technology, no matter the application, and I would require the phone providers to allow the receiver to be able to block ANY number on demand, no matter how many numbers must be blocked and no matter where in the world those calls are coming from. No more being told “this number is outside of our service”. Tough. Block it anyway. Telemarketers have thoroughly contaminated the medium to the point where these requirements are needed. This would also block ALL of the fax spam being sent to businesses and residents and it would kill the bullying tactics of disreputable bill collectors.

* Having that hypothetic magic wand would allow me to release EVERY computer under “zombie control” by hackers and spam-senders, and to make such hacking tantamount to identity theft. While the hackers and spam-senders would be wondering what happened to their “zombie armies”, security programs would be fortifying those affected computers from future exploitations.

* Speaking of security programs, that same hypothetical magic wand would make sure that such programs are not memory hogs. There is no reason for a security program to be essential to the safe operation of a computer and then require so much of the computer’s resources that you literally cannot run anything else BUT the security program without having the computer slow to a crawl. There is simply no excuse for that.

* I would make reverse-compatibility mandatory for both computers AND game systems. No more paying $300 for a game system and then another $1000 on games and then being told you have to shell out $600 more dollars for the next generation system which will not play the games that you already spent $1000 on.

* I would make blackberries and cellphones not work when used in the driver’s side seat of any vehicle in motion. They would work in any other seat, but not in the driver’s seat. It’s nothing short of dangerous to have some ditz with a blackberry juggle texting and driving their urban assault vehicle at 80mph down the freeway. I think that “smart phones” should be just that… smart enough to know when they shouldn’t be used!

* I would legalize prostitution and allow brothels be set up that would be regularly inspected. You want street walkers off the streets? Put them in brothels. Then at least you won’t have to worry about massage parlors and lingerie stores not being what they are.

* I’d change the prices of videos so they would properly reflect their worth. A 30-minute anime video should NOT cost $30, especially since they spend more time running trailers than the video itself!

Okay, sorry but I would have to use the wand on politics as well…

* I’d eliminate ALL so-called “blue laws”. You cannot legislate people into being moral, especially when they are being lobbied by slick salesmen claiming to be ministers and imposed by corrupt politicians that would sell their own mothers to secure another term in office.

* I’d put an automatic 5-year expiration date on all laws and regulations from the moment they are enacted. All laws and regulations would automatically expire after five years. Legislators would then have to enact new laws to replace the ones that expire and they would not be allowed to overlap laws. This act alone would keep politicians quite busy.

* I’d make the oath of office that politicians take subject to perjury laws. If they violate their oath, then they are arrested and charged with perjury.

* I’d hold politicians accountable for every bill that they approve into law and that they would have to know every detail of that bill and of the consequences of enacting that bill into law. Ignorance of the bill or of its consequences would be no excuse, just like it already is for the rest of us. If they didn’t know every detail of that bill then that would be a violation of their oath of office and they would be arrested and charged with perjury.

* I would outlaw asset forfeiture. I would also outlaw eminent domain laws from being used for anything OTHER that for immediate government use. And the politicians would have to PROVE that the property seized through eminent domain would be used for IMMEDIATE government use (i.e. bridges, roads, parks) before the seizure can take place. If it appears that the project they claimed to need the land for is not being used, then the politician can be charged with perjury for violating their oath of office. They also would be prohibited from selling any current land they have seized through eminent domain to private parties for ten years.

* I would make sure that any law declared unconstitutional is immediately removed from the books. People would not be subject to laws that have been declared unconstitutional and they would not have to worry about being arrested for a law that would, at that point, no longer exist.

* I would eliminate sovereign immunity from government so politicians and other government operatives would be held responsible and accountable for their actions.

* I would open political debates to include third party candidates. I would also prohibit all campaigning until the year OF the election, and prohibit any state from having a primary prior to February 1st of that year.

* I would also bar states from putting any kind of tax increases, constitutional amendments, tax breaks, or resolutions from primary or caucus elections. They also wouldn’t be allowed to have special elections for them either. Those things would have to wait until the general election.

Okay, that’s enough about politics…

* I would make neighborhood associations completely voluntary. If you want your home to be part of a communist organization that makes you responsible for your neighbor’s property values, that would be your choice completely.

* I would make the paparazzi live in glass houses, with cameras everywhere, and live camera feeds available exclusively to the celebrities so they can peer into their private lives. It’s only fair.

* I would require businesses to “opt in” for mailing lists instead of adding you in automatically and then having you “opt out”. And if you want me to “opt in” then you had better provide some kind of premium perks!

* I would give every person who asks “Do you know who I am?” amnesia so they really wouldn’t know who they are.

* I would make Net Neutrality the rule for all Internet access.

* I would eliminate DRM and allow “fair use” for all material that is not blatantly pirated.

* I would make Open Source the standard in software development.

* I would establish one royalty rate for ALL broadcasters, regardless of the medium, so whatever the terrestrial radio pays in royalties will be the same that Internet and Digital Satellite radio broadcasters pay. (BTW, terrestrial radio currently pays nothing in royalties.)

* I would make women be honest about whom they really want in a man. I want women to actually admit that they don’t want someone sensitive and caring and instead prefer to hang around bad boys that look like underwear models and have a million dollars to spend on a moment’s notice. (In other words, they apparently want meth dealers.)

* I would eliminate the following from the human condition: acne, cancer, obesity, sexually-transmitted diseases, tooth decay, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s (a.k.a. “Mad Cow”), body hair (except where it matters), obsessive-compulsive disorders, moralism, and male pattern baldness.

And FINALLY… if I hypothetically had a magic wand that could right the wrongs of the world…

* I would obviously make myself super-rich and super-successful! I mean, hey, why should I be wasting that magic righting all of the wrongs in the world without first making sure that I fix my own cosmic wrong?