So long, and thanks for all the fish

Robert Johnson Album Cover
Robert Johnson Album Cover

I have a lot in common with my hometown of Biddeford.

I am at a crossroads, and I have decided that all good things must come to an end. It’s been an incredibly fun ride, but it’s time for me to make some changes.

You may have already noticed, but last week I put All Along the Watchtower — my personal blog — to bed.

Going forward, this site will focus solely on my new business venture. The blog posts will be less personal and focused more on subjects such as public policy, politics, economic development, media trends and healthcare.

The timing for this seemed right. For many years, All Along the Watchtower focused primarily on the city of Biddeford and its political infrastructure. Because my wife was recently elected to the Biddeford City Council, it would be increasingly difficult to write about the city objectively.

And then, I decided to start my own business.

Many people have asked why I decided to launch Randy Seaver Consulting. A number of factors converged; some anticipated, some beyond my control.

Laura and I have been talking about doing this for more than a year, and finally the time seemed right. So, I find myself at a crossroads. A proverbial turning point in my life.

It is exciting and simultaneously terrifying. There is no safety net. Either I swim or I drown.

Now, with the disclosure out of the way, I would like to offer a few final thoughts on my hometown of Biddeford, a city that is facing its own crossroads; its own turning point.

Biddeford is in the midst of a renaissance, a revitalization that would be impossible to recognize 15 or 20 years ago. There is a new vibrancy here. The city’s narrative is changing and people all over Maine are noticing.

But still, there is an internal conflict in the city and it’s not so subtle sometimes.

I read something on Facebook recently that left me shaking my head. It was penned by a woman who claimed she moved here three weeks ago.

Essentially, this woman wrote that the city does not need a parking garage because downtown has nothing to offer but crime and crappy businesses. Who would want to come here? Why would they need parking? There is already plenty of street parking because Biddeford — basically — sucks.

I fought the urge to respond to this woman. I had a few questions for her. 1.) Why did you choose to move to Biddeford, if it is truly as bad as you say? 2.) Were you court-ordered to move here? 3.) Did someone force you to live here?

I understand that change is uncomfortable. I am experiencing my own incredible set of changes (and challenges). But change is part of growth while stagnation leads to decay.

I can appreciate the apprehension some people have about the city’s transformation. I also fully support the notion of constructive criticism from people who are worried about being priced out of their homes because of property taxes. These conversations happen in every community across the country.

But Biddeford has something unique, there is a strong element of self-loathing here.

Over the last few months, countless social media accounts have been set up for no other purpose than to spread negativity and vitriol through the city. No solutions are offered, none of these folks step forward to actually do anything other than gripe.

Self-hatred is prevalent here, and I wonder why more of our residents are not rooting for the city’s success. I don’t expect anyone to become a cheerleader. I respect different opinions and perspectives, but if you stay focused on the negative then you will find yourself in a negative place.

I am at a crossroads, and if I want to be successful, I must focus on success.

If I want my clients to succeed then I must keep my energy positive while also remaining open to constructive criticism.

It is the same for my hometown.

I am excited and anxious about my future. It’s no different in Biddeford.

 

 

What would you do?

reportersMany moons ago, when I was an editor at a weekly newspaper, we used to run a section in the paper that was known as the Police Notes.

It’s a common practice for smaller, local newspapers to run such police blotters, but we used to have a little fun with ours by giving each blurb a humorous sub headline,  and we never included names.

For example, a police report regarding a complaint about a neighbor’s dog doing his business in the neighbor’s yard might be titled “Canine Travels for Business” The blurb would read something like this ” An Elm Street man called police to report that a neighbor’s dog has been repeatedly defecating on his lawn.”

We sought out the most amusing police notes from the three communities we covered. More serious crimes were covered in other parts of the paper. But still, we had access to all police reports, so everything was theoretically fair game.

There are different standards when writing news stories. For example, if a city councilor were arrested for an OUI offense that story would likely be on the front page. If an average citizen were arrested for the same exact crime, it would likely end up in the police blotter without his name.

Police officers are also held to different standards than firefighters. Why? Because a police officer has authority over citizens and a sworn duty to uphold the law. A basic firefighter or public works employee has no such authority.

Bottom line: some people are treated differently by the media, most notably public officials and those who have thrust themselves into the public spotlight. An obituary for a long-time city volunteer and former school teacher would likely run longer than an obituary for someone who was not as well-known in the community.

These are always tough judgment calls for reporters and editors.

I remember one particular item that gave me pause. The adult child of a city official was arrested on a domestic violence charge.

Was this “news” simply because of the relation to a city official? I eventually decided it was not. Typically, domestic violence reports were covered in our Police Notes, not in the news section of the paper.

But if you were a newspaper editor, where would you draw the line? Do the actions of a municipal official’s relative (sibling, child or parent) warrant a news story?

What if the governor’s brother were indicted on charges of mail fraud? For me, that’s an easier question to answer.

On a higher level, the media usually keeps a clear distance when reporting on the children of the President of the United States, but President Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy, seemed like fair game.

These are all tough judgment calls, and they become more murky as we descend lower on the authority scale. Certainly a city councilor wields much less influence than a state senator or governor.

So, I made a choice. I decided not to pursue a story about this councilor’s adult son. The action’s of the son were not directly connected to the councilor. Thus, in my opinion, it was not fair game and would be in poor taste to publish such a news story. In short, it would be sensationalism and had no impact on residents in that community.

Where do you think the media should draw a line?

I never wonder whether I made the right choice. I am as confident in my decision today as I was 13 years ago.

But what would you have done?

The Outsiders

outsidersUp until two months ago, most political consultants within the DC Beltway would tell you that you need a “moderate” candidate in order to win an election. That candidate, the consultants would tell you, should be a centrist, an establishment-type, someone who makes most people safe and secure. Someone predictable.

Outsiders, consultants explain, are unknown quantities; unable to steal votes from the sacred independent, middle-of-the-road voters who often carry much weight in so-called purple states like Ohio.

Conventional wisdom dictates that in order to win the general election, the primary candidate has to draw from the middle to outpace his/her opponent.

This presidential race is unlike many other races in recent history, for both the Democrats and the Republicans. But is there any truth in the theory that moderate candidates are effective for either party?

The establishment didn’t work for the GOP

Republicans bristle at the idea of an “establishment” centrist candidate. They point to the last 20 years, in which they have won only two presidential elections after unsuccessfully nominating Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.

In each of those Republican primaries, anti-establishment outsiders were quickly sent packing. Sam Brownback, Jim Gimore and Tom Trancedo were all anti-establishment outsiders in the 2008 GOP race. Rick Santorum, Buddy Roema, Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry were all anti-establishment, political outsiders. Where are they today?

The establishment rarely works for Democrats

In 2008, Senator Hillary Clinton’s star was shining brightly. She seemed to be the heir apparent for the Democratic nomination. She was, by definition, a Washington insider and portrayed herself in the same mold as her husband: a pragmatic moderate who could get things done.

But a war-weary electorate was looking for something fresh. They rejected all the insiders (Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, John Edwards and Bill Richardson), instead rolling the dice on a virtual poltical unknown with almost no experience in Washington DC.

But the election of Barack Obama was an anomaly in politics. It defied conventional wisdom. Clinton’s campaign consultants wound up with egg on their faces.

In 2000, the Democrats took the safe bet with Al Gore, who is about as establishment as they come. Of course, we all know that Gore came within inches of winning that election, and that he was able to sway independent voters. But still, it was not enough.

Four years later, John Kerry, another insider and establishment type fended off political outsiders such as Howard Dean and Wesley Clark. He also beat other insiders Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and Dennis Kucinich.

When outsiders make a splash

Many Republicans still blame billionaire Ross Perot for handing Democrat Bill Clinton a victory over President George HW Bush in 1992; and Democrats still seethe when they speculate about the damage that Ralph Nader played in 2000, supposedly stealing very critical votes from Al Gore.

This campaign cycle, both the Democratic Party and Republicans have their hands filled with so-called outsiders.

I don’t know how you describe Bernie Sanders as an “outsider” because he’s been a part of Washington’s infrastructure for nearly 16 years. But he is most certainly not an “establishment,” middle of the road candidate. He is a self-described socialist, but his poll numbers look good in both Iowa and New Hamshire. He will likely get crushed in South Carolina, but are Democrats fired up enough to “feel the bern” past Nevada?

And then there’s Donald Trump, a candidate who is all over the map. Trump defies every ounce of campaign logic known to man.

The establishment is beside itself. The National Review and Rich Lowry can’t stop him or slow him down. His off-the-cuff remarks about immigrants, Muslims and even war heroes only makes him more popular.

He is an egomaniac who has filed for bankruptcy four times. Yet, he describes himself as a fiscal conservative who can make “America Great Again.” (He’s just short on specifics)

So maybe, just maybe, this will be the year when Republican voters tell the consultants to just stuff it.

 

 

 

Orange Crush

donald-trumpThere is no doubt in my mind that this blog post is going to cost me some friends.

In fact, it may cost me some other things too, but I can’t sit here and be silent.

I am watching as my country is gripped in fear. I am watching as politicians scream about safety. I am watching and listening to heated debates among my friends about the Paris terror attacks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the role of Muslims in the United States of America.

It is like a nightmare, and I wonder: has everyone forgotten their history?

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said philosopher George Santayana.

Yesterday

Most of us are too young to remember the horrors of WWII, when millions of Jewish refugees fled Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party.
Then, under the authority of the Third Reich, Jews were required to register with the government and to report their movements and whereabouts.
Eventually, Jews were rounded up and sent to prison camps. They were systematically executed during Hitler’s reign of terror.
How could this horror take place? What gave rise to the Nazis? How could Hitler lead an entire nation into a campaign of loathing that eventually turned into mass murder and one of the most significant atrocities in human history?
The answers are difficult to imagine, but it was an incremental process. Germany was reeling financially and on the brink of hyper-inflation fueled by crushing debt that stemmed from their obligations for reparations after World War I.
So, Germany’s economy was in rough shape. But beyond their terrible economy Germans were also concerned about the growing threat of communism in their country. They needed some scapegoats to blame this on.
Hitler came onto the political scene as a magnetic and charismatic speaker. He promised the German people safety and security. He had a stunning ability to whip up the masses with his rhetoric. He delivered scapegoats in the form of Jewish financiers who he blamed for the country’s economic woes.
Sound familiar?
The German people were complicit, either by their silence or by their support of Hitler and the Nazis.
Polls taken in 1938 and 1939 found that the majority of American citizens did not want the government to allow Jewish refugees from Europe to settle in the United States.
A couple of decades later, another gifted and charismatic speaker came onto the political scene; this time in the United States.
Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy led America through the “Red Scare” of the 1950s.
McCarthy spent nearly five years trying to expose communists and other left-wing “loyalty risks” in the U.S. government during the early 1950s, at the height of the Cold War against Russia.
Even mere insinuations of disloyalty by McCarthy were enough to convince many Americans that their government was packed with traitors and spies. McCarthy’s accusations were so intimidating that few people dared to speak out against him.
But Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a fellow Republican to McCarthy, did stand up to him with her Declaration of Conscience speech. One part of that speech that I find especially relevant today is this:
“The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny –Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”

Today

Donald Trump, so far the leading candidate for the GOP nomination in 2016, endorsed the idea for a database to collect information about Muslims living in the United States. At a campaign event in  Newton, Iowa, NBC asked [Trump] whether there should be a database to track Muslims. “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases. We should have a lot of systems,” he said, according to The Atlantic. “We’re going to have to—we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques,” Trump added. “We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

When challenged to explain how his policy ideas differed from those used in Nazi Germany, Trump’s only response was ” You tell me. You tell me.”

What scares the bejesus outta me is that Trump’s leading poll numbers surged again this morning, fewer than 24 hours after he refused to elaborate on how his policy idea differentiated from those used by the Nazis.

What scares me more?

So many of my friends really like Trump.

“He (Trump) says what I’m thinking, but what political correctness won’t allow me to say,” said one friend, adding that safety is the most important thing a politician can do for the nation.

But should we sacrifice liberty and American ideals for safety?

I always thought this was the land of the free and of the brave, not the land of bigotry and fear.

What was it that Ben Franklin said?

“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

 

 

Je suis navré

eifelOver the last 24 hours, many of my Facebook friends changed their profile pictures with a backdrop of the French flag.

I did not.

I have no criticism for my friends who did this, I can only explain why I did not.

What happened in Paris last night was an outrage. Those were cowardly acts perpetrated by cowardly people. Of course, we should stand in solidarity with our fellow men, women and children in Paris. We want to show that we are united.  There is nothing wrong with that.

We are saddened. We are outraged. And yes, we are afraid that this form of terror will soon land again on own shores.

Paris was not the first attack coordinated by ISIS. The loose-knit terror organization has struck other nations, albeit not members of Western Civilization.

I did not change my Facebook profile when ISIS beheaded journalists. I did not change my Facebook profile when ISIS attacked a hotel in Tunisia. I did not change my Facebook profile when ISIS attacked a French Gas plant or when they attacked and killed people in Kobane or Hasakah in Syria; or in Libya or Egypt.

I was a newspaper editor when the 9-11 attacks on the United States took place. Shortly after those attacks, my publisher and I had a lengthy conversation about whether to place an American flag symbol on the top of the front page. Another local paper had made that move, but we decided not to. It was a difficult decision, but I think we both realized that we were dealing with raw emotion, rather than sound logic.

For example, how long would the flag symbol appear on the front page? Would it be like a Christmas tree, which should be taken down after six weeks? Were we suddenly becoming patriotic because we were attacked? Why didn’t we have the flag on the front page on September 10, 2001?

To us, it seemed like being exploitative in the days following a horrific attack on our nation.

As could have been predicted, that other newspaper stopped with printing the flag on their front page long before the end of the year.

Social media is different, however. I see nothing wrong with wanting to show solidarity. I see nothing wrong with wanting to affirm our common connection to the human experience, including its shock, grief and outrage.

I just fear that we are dealing with something so much larger than what we can comprehend; a force of evil that we cannot imagine.

Some say the United States is unable or unwilling to face this latest form of human terror. Some say we are complacent, self-absorbed and don’t have the will to fight any enemy like ISIS. Some even criticize western leaders like President Obama for being “weak” on terrorism.

To those people, I say you are wrong. The same things were said about America and her president on December 6, 1941. We proved the world wrong, if only reluctantly and waiting until we were attacked.

People have criticized Generation X, yet Armed Forces recruiting stations were filled in the days after Sept. 11, 2001.

America has what it takes to confront ISIS, but this will need to be much more than a social media campaign of altered Facebook profile pictures. This will need to be a worldwide effort, and it will require both resources and tremendous sacrifice.

I am not a foreign policy expert, and more than likely, neither are you. I do not know how to bring the world together on this issue, but I do know that it will require much more than symbolic gestures.

We stand with Paris. But we must also stand with Berlin, Tunisia, Prague, Beirut and people of every stripe across the globe, not just the ones who look like us.

 

 

 

No easy answers

Joining other mental health advocates in discussing stigma
Joining other mental health advocates in discussing stigma

In the wake of yet another senseless crime — this one, which struck close to home in Saco — there is a renewed debate about what to do with people who suffer from a mental illness.

Earlier this month, Connor MacCalister allegedly slit the throat of an unsuspecting grandmother, Wendy Boudreau, in a Shaw’s supermarket.

According to a story about the incident in the Portland Press Herald, “[h]orrific crimes like this, committed by individuals with profound mental illness, are rare in Maine, yet each time they occur, the same question arises: How could someone like that be out on the street, in a position to commit such a brutal crime?”

Though I consider myself a self-appointed advocate of mentally ill people, I struggle with the question because it hits home for me.

As mentioned several times throughout this blog, I suffer from a mental illness, with a range of diagnoses.

As of this writing, there are more than 67 reader comments on the Portland Press Herald story. Those comments run the gamut of reactions. Some say we need better access to outpatient mental health services. Others say mental illness is nothing more than a ploy to escape responsibility for a crime. Still others say, patients should be forced to take their medications, while others say we should go back in time and warehouse individuals with mental illness in institutions like AMHI (The Augusta Mental Health Institute).

Admittedly, it’s pretty damn hard to argue for the civil liberties of the mentally ill, especially in the wake of a horrific murder. Where are the advocates for Wendy Boudreau’s civil rights?

Ms. Boudreau’s only mistake was to go to a supermarket to buy ice cream. She had done nothing wrong other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Stigma on a slippery slope

On the other hand, we tread a slippery slope when we generalize mental illness.

For example, how exactly do we define a “profound” mental illness, as the Press Herald story did? How do we know in advance that a mentally ill person is going to commit such a heinous crime?

In fact, violent acts committed by people with serious mental illness comprise an exceptionally small proportion of the overall violent crime rate in the U.S.

Mentally ill persons are far more likely to be the victims of violence, not its perpetrators, according to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)

In its March 2011 article, “Budgets Balanced at Expense of Mentally Ill,” the NASW newsletter also mentions a new report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that documents a nationwide decline in behavioral health care spending as a share of all health care spending, from 9.3 percent in 1986 to just 7.3 percent, or $135 billion out of $1.85 trillion, in 2005.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in five Americans suffers from some sort of mental illness. Of course, the statistics include depression, anxiety and treatable bipolar disorders. Put me in that category.

But what do we do with people who suffer from more extreme cases of these symptoms and other issues including paranoid-schizophrenia.

There have been times when I have been in that category, too.

Should the government force me to take medications? Should I be confined to the Riverview Psychiatric Institute?

Every day, I get up, take a shower, get dressed and go to work. Just like you.

I pay my taxes, enjoy the company of my friends and take care of my home and pets. Just like you.

I have been married to the love of my life for nearly 13 years. I successfully raised two stepsons. I give back and volunteer in my community. How do I do all that if I have a moderating mental illness?

First, I take a wide range of medications every day. Two, I see a therapist every two weeks; and third — perhaps most importantly — I have a support network of caring family members and friends, not to mention safe and stable housing.

These things are unfortunately out of reach for many people with a mental illness.

A broken system

I have relatively good and comprehensive health insurance, but even so it took me weeks to get connected to a psychiatrist after my last hospitalization, some two years ago. There is a profound lack of psychiatric beds in the state of Maine.

There are budget constraints to consider. Many mentally ill people — especially those with more profound illnesses — do not have access to premium health insurance. They live on the edge, relying on the minimum benefits of Medicaid (Maine Care). Still other insurance plans offer minimal coverage for mental health services, both for outpatient and inpatient care. For example many plans will pay for only 12 sessions of outpatient therapy (capped).

Supposedly, after three months, you are cured and ready to hit the streets.

Mental health providers do not choose their occupation to “get rich,” as suggested in the reader comments of the Press Herald Story. Social workers salaries are among the lowest of college-educated professionals. A manager of a fast-food restaurant typically makes more than a social worker.

Social workers do not choose their occupation as a way to get rich quick off the back of taxpayers.

Psychotropic medications are some of the most expensive on the market. Patient records are confidential, and sharing them between providers is a complex, burdensome task.

So what do we do? How do we fix a broken system?

Is it a matter of more money? Do we round up everyone we think might have a mental illness and lock them away? Do we criminally charge people for crimes they may commit in the future?

I do not know the answers to those questions. I do not know if Wendy Boudreau would still be alive today if we had better community-based mental health services. I do not know if her murder was preventable.

But I do know that Wendy Boudreau’s death was utterly senseless, and she did not deserve what happened to her on that hot August day in a supermarket.

 

 

 

#Black Lives Matter

Seattle Times photo
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King: Seattle Times photo

I had a little bit of an epiphany yesterday during an especially long drive home.

To prevent road boredom, I was a listening to talk radio, and a news segment about the Black Lives Matter movement caught my attention.

Before we proceed, a bit of disclosure: I am a white, middle-aged man.

Up until yesterday, I generally had a reflexive, knee-jerk reaction to the synergy building in the Black Lives Matter campaign: I would generally mutter: “All lives matter,” and while I still believe that is intellectually true, what is so wrong with acknowledging that Black Lives do, in fact, matter?

I began wondering, can’t we say Black Lives Matter without assuming that it is an automatic dismissal of other lives, races or ethnic backgrounds?

Why can’t we simply acknowledge that Black Lives Matter without feeling defensive and the impulsive need to correct those who deliver that message?

Like most white people, I want to believe that racism in the United States is a topic best left for the history books. I generally ignore it, or once in a while give it a passing nod as a present day and legitimate problem. I wrote about my own battles with racism previously.

But how can we ignore the rising tensions in black communities without actually sticking our heads in the sand?

I know and expect that I am going to get push-back for this blog post, but before you respond I would ask you to consider the following analogy.

Close your eyes and imagine that you and I are close friends. I have just been through a painful ordeal, one in which justice and fairness evaded me.

I say to you, “My Life Matters.”

Do you feel compelled to say, “Well, my life matters, too. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

Or could you say, “Yeah, your life matters. I’m sorry you are going through a difficult time.”

I really think it’s okay to acknowledge someone’s pain, sorrow or grief without lecturing them about what a politically correct response should be.

It is 2015, why is not okay for some people to hear the phrase that Black Lives Matter?

Why does that make so many people uncomfortable? No one is saying that white lives do not matter or that Hispanic lives do not matter.

A growing number of people in America are standing up, acknowledging reality and asserting that Black Lives Matter.

And they do.

#BlackLivesMatter

 

 

Bang and blame

Frank Underwood
Frank Underwood

Like most everyone else in the free world, I have finally finished the third season of House of Cards, a Netflix original series.

And like most other House of Cards fans, I have been consistently intrigued with Francis Underwood, a ruthless politician played by Kevin Spacey.

As Season Three begins to unfold, President Underwood hires a writer to help promote a new jobs program. The writer accompanies President Underwood to his childhood home of Gaffney, South Carolina. There, the president provides a tour of his hometown, including his family’s “farm,” a failed enterprise that went bankrupt because there was only a thin layer of soil covering deep bedrock.

Underwood explains the farm’s failure this way: hard work is sometimes not enough if you have nothing to work with.

From my own perspective, I have always doubled-down on the notion that success is achieved primarily by hard work. This mantra was driven into the soft-tissue of my brain since before I can remember. It is, after all, a family trait.

Don’t get me wrong.

Hard work is a virtue, but that one scene at the Underwood’s failed peach tree farm— out of 39 episodes — made me re-examine the Puritan values that course through my veins.

Even the losers, get lucky sometimes

Growing up, the game of Monopoly was one of my favorite games. I was an impulsive child, so at every opportunity I bought every property I could, resulting in depleted cash reserves and forcing me to mortgage the properties in order to pay my debts.

monopoly_originalOf course, while my properties were mortgaged they produced no revenue. Inevitably, I would go bankrupt, watching as my parents and sister finished the game without me.

But over time, I became more savvy. I was more judicious in my selection of properties. I focused on the utilities and railroads. I avoided properties that were beyond my means (Boardwalk and Park Place).

I kept no less than 50 percent cash reserves, and put houses and hotels on inexpensive properties such as Oriental and Baltic. The odds of another player landing on these properties was much higher than landing on Boardwalk. Thus, I had a nice revenue stream and owned properties on all sides of the board.

Playing Monopoly is a learning curve, but there is no mistake that winning at Monopoly is also driven by “chance” and luck.

Even at the beginning of the game, the players roll dice to determine who moves first.

One roll of the dice can provide a distinct advantage, but there are always things beyond our control: being forced into jail because of an unlucky roll of the dice, for example.

The game of Monopoly has been criticized as propaganda of greed, the worst trait of capitalism.

But it is also an exceptional learning tool that reinforces the harsh reality of life. No matter how smartly you play, there are always things you cannot control. And even at birth, it is a roll of the dice that can give you an advantage over the other players.

Sometimes hard work is not enough.

We should remember that lesson when judging the other players.

 

Customer service: epic fail

US AirwaysSure, we’ve all experienced poor customer service. But sometimes, when the service approaches reprehensible, you swear you will never do business with that company again.

You also make it a point to tell your friends, family, co-workers and anyone else who will listen about your lousy experience.

Considering how much money most companies spend on advertising, public relations and brand management, you would think they would go out of their way to avoid angry consumers.

Not U.S. Airways.

Apparently, this commercial airliner is so caught up with its pending merger with American Airlines, it has completely forgotten one of the primary rules of business: customer satisfaction.

It’s not just me complaining. Take a gander at Twitter or Facebook and you easily find all kinds of horror stories about the horrendous customer service that is dished out daily to passengers across the globe by U.S. Airways (@USAirways).

Unfortunately, here in Portland, Maine, we are limited in our choice of airline carriers. From here on out, I will happily drive to Boston or Manchester simply to avoid ever again flying on U.S. Airways.

What happened

A few days ago, I had to fly to West Palm Beach, Florida for a business meeting. It would be a short trip with an early morning return the next day. My reservation was made a week in advance, so I paid dearly for my ticket.

The flight to West Palm was uneventful, including a brief layover for a connecting flight in Charlotte.

It was the return trip home, when my nightmare began to unfold.

When I attempted to get my boarding pass at the kiosk, I got a message to “see an agent.” Despite the crowds, I was able to get the attention of an agent who printed out my boarding pass. Strangely, my connecting flight in Philadelphia showed no seat number.

I asked the gate agent to explain or investigate why my connecting boarding pass had no assigned seat number. His response?

“I’m too busy. You’ll have to check with the folks in Philadelphia.”

I was able to board the first leg of my trip from West Palm to Philadelphia, and upon landing set upon a quest t find a US Airways customer service agent. (I had a two-hour layover, so I figured I had plenty of time to sort this out) I was wrong. Very wrong.

I did find a US Airways “customer service” desk. There was one person in front of me, and I waited 25 minutes to get to the desk.

Her response to my query? “I can’t help you, you need to see the gate agent to get this sorted out.” There’s 30 minutes of my life that I can never get back.

So, I proceed to the gate for my connecting flight. The gate agents were wrapping up their work on another flight, and when I approached the desk, they told me to “have a seat.” They said they would look into my problem once the other flight was finished at the ramp.

I took a seat, watching as the plane was being pushed across the tarmac and observing the two gate agents joking with one another.

Now, they must be ready to help me, I thought. So I approached the gate agents and they told me to take a seat and wait for the boarding of my flight.

So, I waited at the gate, now pacing and watching the minutes tick away.

Finally, it was time for the boarding of my connecting flight. Again, I approached the gate agents, and again I was told to “take a seat.” and wait.

In the end, there were nine of us who were unable to board that flight to Portland, Maine. Nine of us with reserved tickets who were told the flight was oversold. Nine of us waiting at the gate, watching as our flight was pushed across the ramp.

I approached the gate agents again. I was told a “customer service manager” would be there “shortly.”

Our group started losing its collective patience about 30 minutes later. The gate agents had left. We were left alone to speculate about what our next steps should be.

From bad to worse

I decided to stop waiting for the customer service manager and began trolling the concourse, looking for a US Airways “customer service” center. I found the “customer service” center and recognized one of the “customer service” representatives. He was the same gate agent who kept telling me to take my seat.

There was one passenger in line ahead of me. The other bumped passengers quickly lined up behind me.

Again, there was only one passenger ahead of me and two representatives “working” at the desk.

It took nearly 40 minutes for me to get to the desk.

While I was waiting in line, I watched in disbelief as the two airline representatives squabbled with each other and kept incessantly talking amongst themselves without ever making eye contact with the man standing right in front of them.

Finally, it was my turn. It took 15 minutes for these two “customer service professionals” to get me a boarding pass for a new flight ( in another concourse) and to receive a compensation check. They wrote out a check for $172.74.

While waiting in line, I read the US Airways policy regarding compensation for overbooked flights. My new flight was going to arrive in Portland more than fours after my original flight landed, meaning I should have received 400 percent of my ticket price from Philadelphia to Portland. You can read the policy here.

According to the US Airways web site: If the passenger’s arrival at their final destination is two hours or more past their original scheduled arrival, involuntary compensation is 400 percent of the sum of the values of the remaining flight coupons of the ticket to the next stopover, but not to exceed $1,300.

At this point, I was too fatigued and grumpy to do the calculation in my head. But how on Earth is $172.74 even close to 400 percent of an airline ticket from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine? Do they expect you to belive you can purchase such a ticket for less than $50?

I just want to get on a plane. I’ve had my share of standing in line. I’m not going to bicker. They beat me down and wore me out. I wanted a drink and a sandwich. I had time to kill before my next flight, so I found the nearest airport bar.

But wait, there’s more

By now I have had a beer and a Philly cheese steak sandwich (cost: $25.04). I have found the gate for my new flight. And the gate agent arrives with a grim face. US Airways “downsized” the flight. The gate agent was looking for volunteers who would like a $320 flight voucher and accommodations at the “newly remodeled Clarion Hotel” at the airport.

So, if you voluntarily give up your seat, you get $320 worth of services. If you get involuntarily bumped, you get $172.74.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Luckily, I was able to board the smaller aircraft. But not everyone was so lucky.

I arrived home more than fours late, but the $7 I spent for that gin and tonic in the air was worth every penny. That drink should have been comped. Maybe $7 would be enough for me not to launch a public relations nightmare toward US Airways.

Maybe not.

In closing, I have two words to describe customer service at US Airways: Epic. Fail.

The “fairness” doctrine

protestLately, it seems, American culture and politics are increasingly focused on fairness and equality. We have attempted during the last decade to create several new individual “rights.” The right to healthcare, the right to faster internet speeds, income equality and a whole bunch of other rights that are intended to level the playing field.

I call these “feel good” rights because too often we ignore the fundamental fact that most of these “feel good rights” require the transfer of goods or services from one party to another, but they do make us feel better: more noble, generous and kind.

By contrast, an actual right, such as the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are universal in nature. They are endowed by our creator (whatever form that takes for you) and they are enforced by law.  Real rights are not created by government, rather merely recognized as an inherent obligation of government.

Life is not fair

In 1978, Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, M.D. published a groundbreaking book that set the bar for so-called self-help books that would follow. The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth became a bestseller published all over the globe.

I found the opening line of that book jarring in its brutal honesty. Peck’s book begins with the statement “Life is difficult.” From there, he goes into great detail talking about the four major disciplines he saw as a path from mental and spiritual illness toward mental and spiritual health.

No matter what we wish, no matter what we desire, we cannot escape the fact that Peck’s assertion is succinctly and brilliantly accurate: Life is difficult. But I would add to that.

Life is not fair.

In fact, life is only fair in fairy tales. But in reality, life is a crap shoot. There are winners and losers. Is it fair that one person is diagnosed with cancer and another is not? Is it fair that one person loses a limb and another does not? Is it fair that one person is born into royalty and another was born into poverty with alcoholic and abusive parents? Of course not.

While we all certainly make our fair share of stupid decisions that carry with them consequences, there are many other things  life throws at us that are not only difficult but patently unfair. These things are most often unavoidable and beyond our control.

It is not the appropriate role of government to make life fair. That is an impossible task that would bankrupt any nation.

But what about equality?

All things being equal

By definition, equality is another fruitless task because true equality is impossible. Unlike the concept of fairness, however, government does have an appropriate role to play in the sphere of equality.

Our Constitution declares that all men (people) are created equal under the law. Think about this for a moment. Our founding fathers knew that life was not fair and that is impossible for all men to be born equally, but under the law, every citizen is the same, regardless of their differences.

As I pointed out above, the reality of true equality is a stretch. According to my dictionary, equal (as an adjective) is defined as “being the same in quantity, size, degree, or value.”

If I weigh more than you, we are not equal. If I am taller than you, we are not equal. If you have hair, and I do not, we are not equal. You get the point.

However, when we look at equal as a noun, it is described as follows: “a person or thing considered to be the same as another in status or quality.”

Our system of laws is not perfect. OJ Simpson could still afford a better defense attorney than me. While we are both equal under the law in that we are entitled to a defense, we are certainly not equal.

By the order of natural law, true equality is virtually non-existent.

Remember the words of George Orwell in the book Animal Farm? Some animals are more equal than other animals. I know it may seem unfair, but it is true.

Tom Brady and I are never going to be true “equals.”

If we are going to have a rational discussion about fairness or equality, we must recognize that government simply cannot make something fair or equal.

What we can do, however, is treat each other as equals, despite our inherent inequality.

But no matter how many laws we create; no matter how many taxes we raise, life will always be unfair. And it will always be difficult.