Help from and for Incoming Wounded
&
Info on Places To Be Avoided

MASH & Recon

Stories and discoveries from
comrades, about shady characters, bad deals,
especially unfriendly corporations,
places where the climate
-- enviromental, economic or social --
is becoming hostile,
news from the old front.

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Payphone Provider

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A payphone provider is the owner of one or a series of phones who has negotiated arrangements with owners of sites to locate one or more phones on their premises, usually for a share of the intake from usage of the phones. For many independent types this business holds attractions. For example, there is very little selling or other pressure tactics, nor are there restrictions on attire, hours or other aspects of lifestyle. You are your own boss, ensure the phones are in working order, collect the coinage, do your fairly basic accounting, pay the phone company and your location owners. Maintenance of electronic equipment is basically appealing to technically minded individuals and keeping pace with trends is for the research oriented. Not bad as working conditions at all.

There´s even the ambiance associated with current public spirited phone companies, both the bigtime players and the creative likes of smaller ones. The idea occurred to one young person to emulate Working Assets Long Distance on the local level, posting the local numbers of public officials and the issues they were currently considering. Even the public you serve tends to be the disadvantaged, whether it´s the stranded individual or one of the many young people who cannot afford phones in their homes.

So what´s not to like? The presence of those big players would seem to virtually guarantee that the income should keep pace with the economic trends. But in the current economy with its downsizing and instability, the movement of people to seek self-employment dreams and opportunities, draws the deceivers. In response to one young person´s query, we began calling some of the ads seen in classified sections of urban papers from many cities.
    Examples:
    1-800-800-3470 $275/month/phone net for Cincinnati area; Bell charges 20%
    1-800-930-1333 $11,000 cost of 5 phones complete produces a $17,000 annual income
    1-800-696-4980 $13,000 cost of 10 phones yields a $20,000 to $30,000 annual income


We encountered a world you can only call incredibly, brazenly crooked. If you call the payphone suppliers, for example, in response to one of their newspaper ads, you will be told that the average payphone nets $275/month in the Cincinnati area. They also lead you to locators, who for a fee of $200 per phone will supply you with a location that´s guaranteed to be satisfactory. After some negotiations you´ve bought payphones, signage, enclosures, and software for about $2,000 per phone at least. Then comes the locations.

Now in my experience with statistics, if you draw 10 balls from a hat and all of them are black, it means there´s a very low probability that there´s any other kind in the hat. Well, that was the score for the locations provided to our young man who had drawn his life savings after his job at a local nonprofit was cancelled and bravely set about organizing his new business. The GROSS from 10 phones was averaging $50, not enough to even pay the phone company. Now comes the guarantee into play: they will provide you with replacement locations free! Of course, it cost you $400 each to install the phones in the first place, plus de-installing and re-installing all over again. Meanwhile your insides are bleeding all over. beacon


The payphone sales-pitch is a lie, start to finish. I´ve talked to others in Ohio who have tried this business. Their assessment was that $100 per month gross is a good location. One I spoke to said that they took a $30,000 loss at first and were penalized $2,000 by PUCO for some piddly infraction of signage. How many can recover from the loss of their savings? And it´s as close to a total loss as can be imagined.

One fellow, who recovered himself, said he had acquired most of his 200 phones by buying them from victims at less than bankruptcy prices. He offered $200 per phone because he was overstocked.

I found a website www.payphone.com where there were similar stories... Manufacturers and big-players feasting on victims. At least there a victim might be able to get $.25 on the dollar.

I wondered whether the law was the answer. If the courts can accept technical evidence like DNA why couldn´t they accept statistics on payphone performance and numbers of victims?

What alternatives do victims have? We contacted
Public Citizen who frequently goes to bat for people taken advantage of by scammers. In correspondence with Mike Tankersley (tankers@citizen.org) the advice was to "contact the Federal Trade Commission and local attorney general´s office about your experience."

The trail then led to Mary Jo van Tusko an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission (Eaton Center, Suite 200, 1111 Superior Ave) in Cleveland, OH 44114.

According to her, they were aware of this scam but were able to do very little. Apparently the individuals they had exposed, had simply moved their operation after minor fines and ineffectual warnings. Her only offer was to accept a ream of paperwork detailing the history with no promise of likely action of any meaningful sort. Under those options, what was a young man to do while struggling to get back on his feet.

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So what do we do to put an end to the victimization, if there´s no way to remedy the injustice? Even payphone.com has closed its bulletinboard/forum page of notes from payphone victims looking for help, warning others and seeking buyers for their phones.

First, this story will be up here for anyone seeking confirmation of their research into information given them by sellers of payphones or locators services.

Second, our conversations with other victims and survivors has accumulated a few suggestions for those determined to make their way through the hazards to a basically independent, technical public service. Once you´ve eliminated the scam offers from your table, consider attending one of the local or national conventions of payphone providers, such as the APCC (American Public Communications Council). There are organizations in most states so check your phone book, the online lists or look for Perspectives, the publication of the national group. Count it as a research cost and get to cruise the displays, talk to those from your state but also talk to providers outside your area too as they are not your competitors. State meetings are likely less formal and more focussed, M&M Payphones 1-513-741-8237 was the state chapter leader in Ohio, when this article was written but any local payphone provider should also be able to connect you with membership folks. Bill Nelson in Indiana at (317) 253-8802 (fax) was the contact there.

It´s important which phones you will buy since maintenance is a significant task that the successful payphone providers do for themselves and life is much simpler with only one set of schemas, programs and assorted upgrades or repairs. Make friends with the providers who chose the same line of phones as you want, to get to know their experience with the corporations that you will be dealing with, as well as possibly being a source of inventory for your business.

The margins are slim unless you have access to big sites, mostly held by the big phone companies and similar players. Install only a few at a time and learn about installation and de-installation as you start so you can take that task on yourself.

Study your locations for their good points and bad so you will learn to better evaluate later potential sites before committing to any further installations. Focus on setting up your books, signage, complaint handling and similar operational matters.

If the phone company offers more than one deal on service, take the least optimistic, least expensive choice and upgrade when your site´s traffic grows, if it does. Talk to other providers in the area to gage the startup time for good and not-so-good sites so you will have a feel for how to plan, if you´re so inclined. Even questions like how to handle long distance calls can be complicated, not to mention keeping tabs on cellphone and pager trends that even some young people without other phone service have used.

And last, if you can manage it, keep your -- or some -- other source of income in place til you´re through the initial stages.

Best of luck
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Merchant Services,


the good, the bad and the ugly.

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Offering credit card service to your business clients and customers opens a world of strange deals, some simply overly expensive, some simply complex, and some really suspect, or all of the above.

As a benchmark, let´s take a more or less typical bank program for merchants with businesses they conduct offline, for example by phone or mail or in person. The terms include about a 5% charge on each sale, MasterCard or Visa only, no transaction fee, and a $4/month charge to cover the bookkeeping. There was a $75 set up fee, and the cost of software or a terminal which could be about $500 (or payments). But we´re not done yet.

The wildcard in this deal is the $25/month minimum, that is, your 5% charges won´t ever be less than $25, whether your business has generated that amount or not. To generate that amount your gross credit card sales would have to be $500/month. Depending on the fraction of your customers who prefer credit cards to checks, this level of credit card sales implies a pretty substantive level of overall sales. Not something a new start-up can count on for a fairly long time.

The software price could be bettered somewhat, reducing the initial bill another $100. Shopping around for alternatives yielded a list of offers but few were appreciably better. Most were worse. A lower rate was overshadowed by either an additional transaction fee or a hefty set-up or a huge software/hardware bill, some as high as $1000 up front or even $40/month for 48 months. And you still had no way to do e-commerce.

Among the really questionable deals was one that suggested using their e-commerce option for phone/mail orders which is probably not legal nor respectful of your clients´ wishes to choose phone or mail. Worse was the group that offered a snazzy buzzworded pitch designed to snow the novice e-merchant with little business experience either.

Their pitch that "at the end of their $70/month, 4 year lease you will *own your virtual terminal*" was made to sound like home-buying, mortgages and substantive investing when in reality a virtual terminal is an ephemeral creation that ceases to exist when the electric goes out or the operator dissolves the business... without hardware or software of any kind in your possession, at best you will own a remote, obsolete piece of cyberspace with no participatory input or guarantees the controlling operation won´t move on to some new lucrative venture.


The good news for start-up e-businesses is that there´s an alternative you can offer your credit card customer. One that is easy to implement, uses the supplier´s secure server, has no up-front charge, no monthly minimum, no account fee, no transaction fee, no lease and a rate of 8%, which is appropriate for the range of credit cards covered. There may be others that are comparable but this deal can serve as your benchmark. This option will not cover phone, mail, or in-person sales but the bottom-line is that the web is still an environment friendly to a start-up home-based business, even for merchant services. Just network with those doing it, do your homework and don´t under-estimate the length of the start-up time for your operation.

Futurist Reconnaissance -- Challenges on the Horizon


Impending Depression?
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Analysts and historians have been comparing recent international market behavior for similarities between the crash of 1929 and the Asian markets´ collapse in the summer of 1997. Most intriguing has been the recognition that the vaunted opportunists in Asian markets were as fiscally reckless as the pre-regulation American market was in ´29. The aggressive optimism prior to the collapse, the reassurances of governments and the ultimate domino effects in neighboring nations characterize both events. Though the greater interconnectivity of markets today may seem a recipe for these dominoes to reach the American and European markets, it also offers a greater chance for international responses to cushion the economic fallout. Some insist not enough is being done.

The History News Service, an informal syndicate of historians, recently put the timetable to watch into perspective. It may seem that the widespread Asian crisis of ´97 is no longer headline material, but the American market crash in ´29 took almost four years to reach the depth of its trough. Some financial analysts have pointed out that American investors have many more links to the Asian market than Europeans and this year has seen the preliminary market volatility here. Consumer confidence is beginning to show the effects as America´s negative savings rate, which had been powering the observed economic growth, will be forced to turn and slowdown the signs now being interpreted as robustness. With more controls and safeguards in place, the dominoes may only fall slower or not as severely. The Federal Reserve Board is ´encouraging´ banks and brokers to ´rescue Long Term Capital Management´. How much rescuing is needed, how much will materialize, how contagious will investor anxiety be? We have a while yet to watch this spectacle.

For details or updates you may be able to consult Robert Brent Toplin, professor of history, University of North Carolina at Wilmington. (Office phone: (910) 962-3318; fax: (910) 962-7011; e-mail: ToplinRB@UNCWIL.EDU) or visit the website of the History News Service at http://www.h-net.msu.edu/~hns

In the meantime, precautions to reduce vulnerability enough to ride out some difficulties. And while we´re making decisions... want someone to invest your social security in the stock market? Let´s accumulate some details and ideas.



Y2K
is beginning to get more serious press coverage. Though this is on schedule according to predictions of worst case scenarios, there are other indications that the dislocations and emergencies associated with this global computer systems problem will be much less difficult to deal with than worst cases.
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The Social Security systems announcement of compliance was reassuring, as are the slowly accumulating announcements of banks that they are prepared. Word from utility companies would be another milestone. Media alerts to encourage individuals to anticipate all sorts of service delays and errors should reduce the potential for panic in public confidence and allow greater preparedness for this and other disasters.

Insiders in programming are still expressing confidence even in private circles. Operating systems and computing languages have been developing more programmer friendly debugging resources over time, enabling those working on these problems to identify more precisely where failure occurs. The older the system, the more revisions by more hands, the more vulnerable to error the systems become whether the fix is for Y2K or other cause. So some additional fallout would be reasonable to expect even if the fixes go well.

Information for helping women to stay on our toes, follow the reports, and take reasonable measures to bridge our vulnerabilities wherever we depend on computers can be found at http://www.y2kwomen.com. The move for people to alter their lifestyles to more sustainable options may prove beneficial shortterm in weather emergencies as well as in the long term environmental and social justice imbalances. The more general the sense of readiness, the more likely this transition period will be calm, though we already see some alarm as people begin to deal with uncertainty.

Tech Shortage or Tech Surplus


One More Shell Game?
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One more indication of American corporate duplicity in the tech industries is their pressure on congressional committees to allow large increases in the visas granted for foreign tech workers to enter positions in the US under the guise of critical shortages. These same industries were at the top of the list of businesses laying off staff and the ranks of unemployed or underemployed tech workers have been growing accordingly. Apparently the American tech worker is no longer considered worth investing in or capable of learning new systems even though historically our technical advances were made by people with creativity and a desire to solve problems but no direct training in the next generation technology, This is especially true in computer science which emerged in industry well ahead of its development in academic and training circles.

Since the computer techs must now invest repeatedly in their own training in whatever software and hardware that the corporation may opt to have installed, then it would seem logical and fair for them to reap the value of that investment and to have the control over their choice of direction as well. In short, this responsibility effectively validates both the need and advisability of moving toward self-employment, contracting and consulting.

It should be noted that in this environment, foreign workers will likely be exploited to the limits of their working existence by the most unprincipled among these corporate employers and there are already insider reports to that effect. A foreign worker who is admitted to the country by the grace of their employer has little or no negotiating room when asked to work beyond conscionable limits or subjected to extended periods "on the bench" at nearly no pay while waiting for an assignment. Before accepting such an arrangement, take heed of the principles of the corporation engaging in this practice and be prepared for it.




Reality and Human Resources

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Neophytes in the corporate world have been known to view Human Resources as a friendly place. After all, this is the department that gives you your paycheck, negotiates your insurance coverage options and authorizes tuition credits. This initial exposure would tend to suggest that these people are working for you. Somehow issues such as discrimination and harrassment are said to be resolved in their benificent dominion. Some idealists enter this field with visions of making the corporate world a better place.

In reality, the game is structured to benefit the corporation. This generally means the idealists have no tools to make a difference. Department mandates are given with an eye to ´the big picture´ and reporting arrangements in the pyramid structure clearly allow top management to play arbitrator and manipulator. For example, the legal department cringes at the mention of employee complaints and advises that HR´s authority to resolve these issues be limited in such a way that will avoid giving the adversary (that´s you) an advantage in court. Acting on these cases in any way that would indicate in the courtroom that malfeasance was officially established, should you decide to sue, must be avoided. HR then effectively is little more than a velvet glove to smoothe things over as delicately as possible.

The outcomes of their interventions are practically predetermined since the perpetrator is usually someone who outranks the complainant and has patrons even further up the pyramid. The perpetrator likely knows the company culture´s real tolerance from longer familiarity so it´s likely that your challenging the events will be unappreciated among your coworkers and the process will put you at an even greater disadvantage, such as requiring your agreement to confidentiality while allowing company gossip to spread far and wide. Those euphemisms about equality and due process are boiler-plate defenses and window-dressing. Remember who foots the bills and where their immediate best interests lie. You are dealing with hired pros who are conversant with security issues and guarding company secrets, who know all the footwork and tactics. It´s their job to sidestep and steer management clear of nasty involvements.

Another delicate HR process is managing payroll ´expense´. That doesn´t mean the cost of cutting checks. Your earnings are their expense. Overtime tactics have changed. When CEOs earned less than 20-30 times as much as their junior staffers, personnel turnover was considered undesireable. But when personnel managers needed to establish the appearance of pay equity, they invented a ´science´ that involved a major stairstep in payscales, which made padding the company´s ranks attractive to senior management. ´Naturally´ the corporate pyramids grew, adding level-after-level of newly ´needed´ specialized talent, necessitating the skyrocketting climb of CEO compensation to oversee vertically glutted empires. When these geniuses discovered that this structure was insupportable financially, personnel ´science´ developed skills at re-engineering and outsourcing. Their new pyramids are bottom-heavy in numbers but the pinnacles, by now, account for obscene compensation levels, relics of the empire building transgression that was abetted by personnel.

Among the strategies that have been observed in support of this new leaner structure are unofficially mandated turnover rates to pare down the cadre of staff reaching senior positions and bring in more junior staff with ´newer skills´. When they say there are advantages to bringing in ´new blood´ they´re referring to the ´blood, sweat and tears´ of eager newbies, trying to prove themselves, working 80 hour weeks, postponing life´s commitments. At a minimum, personnel keeps close tabs on doling out the payroll increases that managers can distribute.

The designation ´Human Resources´ may indeed be more appropriate than personnel. As purchasers and managers of this commodity it´s clear where their allegiance must be. You are the commodity to be judiciously procured, filed, recorded, and disposed of when there are alternatives that would benefit the bottom line. Stay alert. The system militates against optimism because HR performance is compared across corporations and the definition of HR success will tend to penalize and replace idealists and maverick HR management.


Valian´s Model and Its Implications

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Sometimes our aversion to either mathematical constructs or to unpleasant realities is absolutely amazing. Take for instance the seminal book Why So Slow by Virginia Valian of Hunter College in NY, whose specialty is psychology and linguistics. In the book published by MIT Press, she demonstrates very ably the existence of discriminatory practices that persist in academia with obvious parallels in industry as well. Yet she calls these mindsets the neatly termed "schemas" and insists that "There are no victims or victimizers" Oh really! That these behaviors even infect the women discriminated against only makes those women doubly victimized. But then again she admits that she doesn´t like to examine her own experiences so maybe that blindspot is explained.

There was however a more objective result that Valian and her readers seem to be ignoring as well, this time maybe because the methodolgy is technical. She presents the Martell, Lane and Emerich computer model of promotion practices at a hypothetical corporation which she acknowledges as convincingly demonstrating the cumulative effects of small-scale bias.

According to Valian in an interview promoting her book, "The simulation created an organization with an eight-level hierarchy staffed at the bottom level by equal numbers of men and women. The model assumed that over time a certain percentage of incumbents would be promoted from one level to the next. It also assumed a tiny bias in favor of promoting men, a bias accounting for only 1 percent of the variability in promotion. The researchers ran the simulation through a series of promotions. After many series, the highest level in the hierarchy was 65 percent male. The model shows clearly that even minute disadvantages can have substantial long-term effects."

Yet, neither Valian nor other leaders of the women´s movement seem forthright in applying this result to our real futures. Based on her own demonstration of the existence of such biases, the model means that women seeking meaningful opportunites for their efforts should recognize that these are seldom going to come from any corporate organization nor in academia. If there are no better venues then why did such a strong trend among women develop, particularly among those with demonstrated talent and insight into company startup, to launch their own self-employment.

Adding the struggle women will face in balancing motherhood and work to the futility of the corporate or academic career path without warning them to seek other venues is less than humane, particularly when the background in self-employment is something generally attainable. Not only would they be able to go straight to that route if they chose, but they would have a negotiating advantage should they choose to spend some segment of their career path inside an established company for a specific goal, And when the time arrives for most to focus on their childrem, they will be secure in their ability to control their future, as well as eventually introducing their childrem to their world of independence.
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Valian´s solution is to seek creditability for women by drawing larger numbers of women into fields less frequented by women because lone female candidates for positions are diminished as unbelievable. But she ignores the fact that every career where women have reached significant numbers, has seen an exodus by men and a subsequent downgrading of the entire career group. Librarians are a good example, as is schoolteaching. Conversely, when careers that women inhabited in number in the early stages of implementing new technology began to show promise of power, those careers were redefined as needing different abilities labelled as more male in character and women were no longer desired candidates. Programmers and telegraphers show this pattern. The "detail oriented" early programming requirements were rewritten as "machine oriented" when the economic usefulness of computers was recognized near the end of the 50s.

With leadership that can´t examine their own life and that wants women to pursue a futile agenda in the misguided attempt to acumulate credibility in numbers, women should take their own best interests and the interests of those who depend on them as better guidance.

beacon But Valian is not the only researcher and spokesperson who fails to deal with the reality of what they are promoting for real people whose lives are worth more than canon fodder. Top management in US corporations have openly stated that their functions were too vital to the company wellbeing to be hampered by making them work with people whose diversity made them distracted. So even the men who would make changes in our corporate direction, regardless of qualifications, will be passed over for others most like the current generation. It´s time for considered, independent action toward new paths.


One last gem from the book. To aid those navigating away from work already within the corporate structures, there was, in Valian´s voluminous list of research facts, one more curious result. Based on testing, should you find yourself approaching a situation where you suspect you will be subjected to an unfair decision, you can skew the odds a little toward fairness if you can arrange the location where the decision is to be made or delivered to one with a mirror. Apparently, having to face oneself while doing ill tends to discourage the ill-doer! It may not prevent it, but it makes it less likely.


(R.F.Martell, D.M.Lane, & C.Emrich 1996, Male-female differences: A computer simulation. American Psychologist 51:157-158)

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