Video: Here’s The Watchdog’s 5 Principles to Become a Super-Consumer

In this Watchdog Nation training video below — sponsored by The Dallas Morning News — Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber shows the best way to stay on top of businesses, scammers and other 21st century life annoyances.

WHAT VIEWERS SAY:

   “I always knew you were chock-full of useful info but had no idea you were so absolutely hilarious,” J.M. wrote me.

   “I made my family listen to your five rules during dinner last night,” R.A. wrote.

   “Loved the webinar. It was short and sweet and very informative.” K.B. wrote. “Thank you for educating us and entertaining us all at the same time.”

   “I appreciate the wonderful, helpful content,” D.W. told me.

   “Your steps are very clear and give us a great blueprint to not lose out. Thanks!” wrote B.T.

   “I thought I needed a haircut, but you…,” M.G wrote.

If you imagine that a local business making surgical face masks was working 24/7, guess again

This story about America’s number one medical mask maker — Prestige Ameritech — appeared in the April 3, 2020 Dave Lieber Watchdog column in The Dallas Morning News. Five days later Texas Gov. Greg Abbott agreed to send the Texas National Guard to work an added shift and produce two million masks a week.

When the history of the coronavirus epoch is written, The Watchdog hopes historians don’t neglect to mention Prestige Ameritech and its owner, Mike Bowen. The North Richland Hills company is America’s No. 1 maker of hospital surgical masks.

During this crisis, you’d think the company would be pushing forward on all cylinders, working 24/7 to manufacture the one commodity that Americans and the rest of the world want so badly.

You’d be wrong.

The company is only operating weekday shifts. You drive by nights and weekends and the employee parking lot is empty.

“People are curious why there aren’t any cars in the parking lot,” North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino told me.

And why is that, Mr. Mayor?

“The system got him,” the mayor said about Bowen, who is executive vice president of the company. “And he’s unhappy about it.”

The story of Bowen’s unhappiness is a cautionary tale about what can happen if Americans searching for cheaper prices send entire industries offshore to countries like Mexico and China.

Everything Bowen has warned about has come true. He warned that allowing another country to serve as our main supplier of personal protection equipment has the potential to become a national security nightmare.

Bowen declined to talk to The Watchdog for this story. He’s busy.

“There is 200 times more demand than there is supply,” he told former presidential adviser Steve Bannon on Bannon’s podcast. “My phone is ringing every two minutes. Every one minute I am getting an email.”

An examination of his warnings going back more than a dozen years tells the story.

The common theme is that during an outbreak like this, everybody wants to be his customer. But as soon as an outbreak subsides, his customers dump him and run back to China. The reason? His masks may cost a dime each, but a made-in-China mask might go for two cents.

“Last time he geared up and went three shifts a day working his tail off,” the mayor recalled. “As soon as the issue died, he didn’t have any sales. He had to pay unemployment for all these people, and he had to gear down.”

As Bowen explained to Bannon, “I’ve been preaching this American-made story since 2007. Nobody listened. The whole mass market was only interested in price. I’ve been everywhere trying to get people to listen. I’ve talked to congressmen. I’ve talked to generals. I’ve written the president. I wrote President Obama five or six letters, and he sent me a presidential proclamation suitable for framing.”

Bowen wants a guaranteed contract, not a proclamation. It’s tough to win a bid to supply U.S. hospitals through their group purchase agreements that seek the cheapest price when your competitor pays low wages, ignores environmental concerns and is subsidized by a Communist government.

Last month, he got another proclamation but no contract to go with it. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, named Prestige Ameritech the “Senate Small Business of the Week.” The citation notes that the company “has ramped up their daily production to 600,000 masks.”

The company could do so much more.

The best intentions

The company is in a building originally used by Kimberly-Clark to make medical masks. But that company moved its operations to Mexico. When Prestige Ameritech opened in 2005, it was touted as a great day for the made-in-America movement.

By 2009, the company had grown strong enough to meet the demand caused by the H1N1 swine flu outbreak. Hospitals promised to stick with him afterward, but they broke their promise. The allure of cheaper Chinese masks was too great for hospital purchasing groups to ignore.

In 2010, the company celebrated a grand “reopening” when it renamed its factory the Global Pandemic Preparedness and Response Center. The event was attended by then-Gov. Rick Perry, who said, “It’s good news for America as America becomes competitive back in this arena again.”

But the news wasn’t so good. The next year, Bowen and company president Dan Reese had to lay off 150 workers. Bowen told Wired magazine, “150 people that saved a lot of hospitals from closing their doors were rewarded by losing their jobs. And that’s not going to happen again.”

The company nearly went bankrupt. In 2012 the company took out a million-dollar loan.

Mayor Trevino recalls escorting Bowen around the Texas Capitol in Austin as Bowen made his case with state lawmakers for more government support.

“He was begging them to understand that we shouldn’t have all our masks made in China. He wanted a federal government contract that would keep him in steady business,” the mayor said, adding that Bowen wanted to help build a future stockpile for a pandemic that Bowen predicted would happen.

Trevino recalls Bowen saying, “If y’all don’t care about me in good times when everybody’s OK, how am I going to be there when you need me?”

The city wrote letters on his behalf to federal lawmakers, Trevino said.

“Everything he was saying fell on deaf ears,” the mayor said.

Or as Bowen asked in a 2017 Dallas Morning News interview, “If the government doesn’t even buy American, who will?”

In that same interview, Bowen showed stacks of dismantled office cubicles.

“Every one of those represents somebody who used to have a job,” he said, adding that he nicknamed an empty, unlit corridor in his factory the “hall of death.”

He’s tired of being “the backup guy,” he said. “Create American jobs. Buy American. … It’s hot air.”

Ramping up

That’s why if you drive by America’s No. 1 mask maker on a night or weekend, the parking lot is ghostly. But the lot isn’t completely empty. There’s a North Richland Hills police car parked outside near a police observation tower. The mayor said the business has received threats.

Bowen told CBSDFW.com that he could only make about 1 million masks a day if he ran his machines 24/7. He said that would have little impact on global demand.

He told Bannon he is ramping up, but it takes weeks to build new machines and train employees. His company’s street sign announces it is hiring.

The company is not selling to the general public or to non-American buyers. Now, it’s only selling to U.S. hospitals. But Bowen asks hospitals to sign contracts. Who can blame him?

Or as the mayor puts it, “He’ll gear back up, and he’ll produce, and they’ll probably do it to him again.”

READ MORE STORIES BY THE WATCHDOG.

Photo by Tom Fox, Dallas Morning News

NEWS! Watchdog Nation column wins top prize in 2019

The Dallas Morning News Watchdog column by Dave Lieber won top prize in the nation’s largest column-writing contest.

The contest judge noted: “Through a lively combination of consumer advocacy and investigative reporting, Lieber’s columns were models of suspenseful storytelling and public service.”

You can read his winning columns: 1) helping the widow of Officer J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, get buried beside her late husband, and 2) helping a waitress who was harmed by an unscrupulous used car dealer.

The 2019 contest was sponsored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Dave Lieber, a certified professional speaker, is the author of eight books.

His newest book is AMON! The Ultimate Texan. It’s the story of “Mr. Fort Worth” — Amon Carter who owned the newspaper, radio station AND TV station and ran the town for 50 years.

Dave’s play of the same name debuted at Artisan Center Theater in Hurst, Texas in May 2019. It was an immediate hit, with 16 sell-out performances. The play is now on hiatus as producers plan to bring the play to Fort Worth. Learn more at AmonPlay.com.

Looking for a fun speaker for your group? Dave’s motivational, inspirational and delightful talks always bring results and smiles to conference planners and audiences.

A waitress who defeated an auto dealer in court gets the surprise of a lifetime, thanks to readers

When my wife and I picked up Christal Scott at her Dallas restaurant at the end of her waitress shift (her planned ride canceled because of bad weather), she was bitter about humanity.

With good reason.

She’d been without a car since July because of her duel with 1and2 Automotive in northwest Dallas. Her car was snatched back by 1and2 in what she called an illegal repossession. She lost her $5,100 cash down payment, too.

She sued the used car dealer in small claims court, and stood up to co-owner David A. Kost Jr., whom I call the King of Car Repossessions. The day of that trial, Kost told me many of the 200 cars he sells each month come back to him. (Note: This story first appeared in the Jan. 19, 2018 Dallas Morning News.)

It was quite a courtroom scene. No lawyers. Just the single mom, 43, still wearing her all-black work uniform and platinum blond hair tied back in a ponytail, going toe-to-toe with Kost, 39, shaved head, goatee, untucked shirt, jeans and boots with a silver chain around his neck.

“I was a mess that day,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what to ask him. It was really scary.”

She won. A jury awarded her $2,000. She hoped to use the money for a down payment on another car, but, as of Thursday, Kost has not paid.

1and2 Automotive sales tactics

We were driving to a car dealership in Plano, but Christal didn’t know exactly why. She’d find out soon. A surprise of a lifetime. For the moment, the Irving woman was sour on life.

“Everything you do nowadays is a ripoff,” she said. “You can’t trust anybody at all. Not businesses. Not anybody. Nobody is honest. Everybody is so greedy.”

She’s worked at the same restaurant for 11 years. She has no family other than her disabled son. She’s street-smart and savvy.

She’s also brave. By herself, she took on what The Watchdog calls one of the worst used car dealerships in Dallas.

The pattern, shown through my reporting, is that 1and2 Automotive customers often find their desired cars on Craigslist. But when they arrive at 1and2 at the corner of Reeder and Joe Field roads, they’re told sorry, that car sold 20 minutes ago.

A salesman points the buyer to a more expensive car and asks to see cash to make sure the customer is serious. The cash is dropped in an office safe. Salesman says he can’t get it out. You just bought a car.

Kost, who owns 1and2 with his father, David A. Kost Sr. (hence 1and2), told me customers can get the money back in a check, but it takes two weeks.

That scenario happened to Christal and also to Dalwan Washington, a single mom whose story I shared. She lost her car because she missed a $275 payment by a few days. She, like Christal, was confused because it turns out the contract language calls for biweekly, not monthly payments.

Christal thought she was making a monthly payment of $450 but it was actually supposed to be $900 a month on a Camaro, a car she felt forced to buy after they snatched her life savings of $5,100 and dropped it in the safe.

If you come back to the dealership to complain, staff puts you in what Kost calls “the manager’s room.” I call it “the scream room.”

Kost said, “If someone is in my showroom and they’re yelling and screaming, what do you do? You can do whatever you want to in this room. … The thing that upsets them about this room is their voice doesn’t go very far [even] if they yell and scream.”

Makes you want to buy a car, huh?

A surprise at Ewing Buick-GMC

We arrived at Ewing Buick-GMC on Dallas Parkway in Plano. General manager Jeff Gaden was waiting with a smile — and a surprise.

Four anonymous donors, after reading about Christal’s plight, stepped forward with more than $12,000 in contributions. It’s a bit overwhelming.

Gaden happily said that he would sell her a 2012 Honda Accord (one of the best cars ever made), black to match her waitress uniform, with 65,000 miles.

“Are you serious?” Christal asked, fighting back tears.

Gaden sold it at wholesale, so Christal has no payments.

The Buick GM told her why. “We appreciate you standing up in court.” Auto dealers, he said, “try to keep a good name. That’s important to us for someone like you to stand up.”

Asked what lesson she wants to share, she agreed.

“The lesson is to stand up and fight,” she said.

She sat in the driver’s seat. “I’m ready to drive. It’s been so long. … No more Uber or Lyft.”

“You told me people were kind of rough and mean. And that you couldn’t trust anybody,” I reminded her.

“Yeah.”

“You still think that way now?”

She answered quickly.

“Nope.”

 

Watchdog Nation Series on Texas Public Schools

Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber gives TED talk on power of storytelling

Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation works to change the mindset of Americans about how easy it is to fight back and win.

The way to do this is with stories that show how others have achieved victory against corporate thugs and scammers.

Watch this funny TED talk video and learn how Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News, tells stories that move people to action and change.

See how Dave Lieber’s “Magic V-Shaped Storytelling Formula” helps others in this testimonial.

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More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

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What happened when Watchdog Nation ate lunch with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson

My #shameATT campaign on Twitter landed Watchdog Nation in the office of AT&T CEO/Chairman/President/Big Kahuna Randall Stephenson.

Hear what happened when we gave him a red binder full of complaints

Here’s the story that originally appeared in the Dave Lieber Watchdog column in The Dallas Morning News.

  • A mistake I made about AT&T led me into AT&T Chairman-CEO-President Randall Stephenson’s office last week. That’s right. The C-Suite. Suite 400 at AT&T world headquarters in downtown Dallas.

    Guys like me can’t get past a company’s PR gatekeepers. But here I am being escorted in the elevator by a building guard. I bring a message from you to him. I carry a large red binder with more than 100 complaints about his company.

    Previously, I had written that “the big kahuna at AT&T” doesn’t list improving customer service as one of his top three goals. I launched a #shameATT Twitter campaign.

    After that, the big kahuna himself calls on my AT&T cellphone to alert me of my error. He says making customers happy has always been and will always be his numero uno. He invites me to his office for a chicken salad lunch (for which, incidentally, I pay).

    After spending 90 minutes in his office last Wednesday, I attest that the big kahuna cares about customer service. Absolutely.

    The natural follow-up I ask is: How does it feel to fail?

    And I give a little speech: “The reason I’m here, though, is specifically — besides the honor of coming to meet you — to present to you my dilemma. I really have a dilemma. And the dilemma is this. I made this for you.”

    I pull out the large red binder. The cover title I created is “The Last 100 Days.” What’s inside? 119 emails from 119 customers and employees — more than one a day — from the last 100 days. I deleted the senders’ names and other personal information to protect their privacy. But these little stories are the saddest tales of corporate failure and customer frustration one can imagine.

    “This is what my life has been like for the past 10 years,” I say.

    I explain that since I became The Watchdog in 2005, not a day goes by, hardly, when I don’t receive a complaint about his company. Stephenson is tall. Dark hair and glasses. Friendly and courteous. When I talk negatively about his company, he listens intently and doesn’t get defensive.

    “Is this something I can keep?” he asks, pointing to the binder.

  • Dave-Lieber-and-ATT-CEO-RANDALL-STEPHENSON
  • “Yep.”

    “OK, good,” he says. “Did they ask to have the names stripped out?”

    “No,” I explain. “They wrote to me.”

    “So you don’t have their permission?”

    “Yeah. I want you to see what people say about this company.”

    “Good. I want to see it.”

    • “It’s shocking,” I warn. “Such a terrible reflection on this company. And I’ll be honest with you: When I give speeches, I will say that I think AT&T is the worst large-scale company in America. And nobody really ever argues with me.

      “This is just amazing — the level of ineptitude, of carelessness,” I continue. “And it’s shocking to me, and it’s been happening to me every day for 10 years. I’ve always forwarded these to your PR guys. But I’ve stopped.”

      “Why don’t you just start forwarding them to me?” he asks.

      “I would love to do that,” I say, “but here’s what I started sending to people.” I pull out a sheet that shows a keyboard shortcut I created to answer AT&T complaint emails. The shortcut is a link to the complaint website of AT&T’s regulator, the Federal Communications Commission.

      He says that’s an option for people. AT&T gets monthly reports to which it must respond.

      He taps on the red binder again: “I’ll be on an airplane tomorrow. And I’ll spend time going through it.”

      I say, “So that’s why I’m here, OK? I’m here on behalf of what I would call the ‘Make it stop’ campaign.”

      “What is that?” he asks.

      “Make this stop. For every 60 I get about AT&T, I get one about Verizon. For every 90 I get about AT&T, I get one about Time Warner Cable. So your ratio is so far off the charts.”

      His main point to make to me? “If you leave here with nothing else,” he says, “know that this is a priority of mine. This is my No. 1 priority. This is where we invest more capital than anyplace else.”

      He adds, “I would like to convey that we have a plan and a lot of investment” in improving customer service.

      OK.

      He points to the red binder again, screaming brightly in his modern wood-and-glass office. “I’ll find this very useful. … I want to study it. I want to see if I can put together a plan and address this on a broader scale.”

      He tells me that a column I wrote last month describing a customer service horror story was studied intensely by his team. He calls these studies of what went wrong a “root cause analysis.”

      During the next hour, I glimpse what it’s like to run a company with 150 million customers and 280,000 employees. I learn how he monitors performance using scores and metrics and data, some of it independent of the company and some internal.

      I learn that customer service at AT&T is changing. Much of it will go online. Call center reps are going to get more training and better technology to help them do their jobs, he says.

      He glances at the screaming red binder again. “I don’t know what I’m going to find. I’m dying to dive into it. It will actually be valuable intel I suspect.”

      Then he says something that changes my impression of him in a big way. He is removing the gatekeepers. When I ask him again where I should send the daily complaints about AT&T, he gives me his email address.

      Do these emails go to your phone? I ask.

      “Yes.”

      If our little meeting improves customer service for one person, I’ll be happy. But my goal is bigger. His is, too. Let’s improve AT&T’s customer service for millions.

      Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

      Check out The Watchdog on NBC5 at 11:20 a.m. Mondays, talking about matters important to you.

      On Twitter:
      @DaveLieber

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Watchdog Nation takes hard look at Flip or Flop HGTV stars’ questionable side business

Man, I am so psyched to meet Tarek and Christina El Moussa of HGTV’s Flip or Flop reality TV show.

The couple’s photo is on the front of the invitation The Watchdog receives to a “Private Real Estate Event” at an area hotel. They sign their names inside.

Wow. I’m going.

As Tarek says on his popular TV show: “We buy the ugliest, nastiest, most rundown houses we can find, and we transform them into beautiful homes.”

hero

Handsome Tarek swings the sledge hammer. Beautiful Christina handles the redesign of the homes they buy.

When they argue on TV about which crappy house to buy, it’s like watching your next-door neighbors in a spat about whether to turn on the lawn sprinklers. So cute.

Their story is legendary. They were in real estate, and when that tanked, they started flipping houses. They made real money! They sent a video to HGTV and, bang! They got their own show! Legendary!

My favorite episode? Christina is about to have a baby. So Tarek is on his own. He must redesign the kitchen by himself. He’s so nervous. What if Christina doesn’t like it?

At episode’s end, Christina sees the finished house and … she approves. “You nailed it,” she tells Tarek. “So pretty.”

Then she has the baby — beautiful, like them. Oh, and they sell the house for a lot of money.

Yes, I have to meet them.

At the hotel

I go to the hotel. A hundred others are in a ballroom. I see a curtain up front. Bet Tarek and Christina are behind that curtain. Can’t wait.

But a guy named Joe comes out. Where are Tarek and Christina? What’s going on here?

Joe shows a video. In it, Tarek explains, “Due to our busy work and filming schedule, we can’t make all events. But we’ve done the next best thing. We’ve reached out to our network of top real estate trainers.”

Are you kidding me? The closest I’ll get to them are life-sized posters. I take a selfie with a poster.

I’m there for three hours listening to Joe, then Grant, promise to teach us all the secrets that Tarek and Christina use to make money.

banner

What are they selling? Three things. For $2,000 I can attend a three-day workshop. For $5,000 I can learn how to use tax liens to my advantage. If I do, I can tap the third point of sale: investor money loaned to me to help buy houses.

The words they use to sell are classic hotel ballroom sale-a-thons. From my notes:

This is not for everybody. It’s a ninja strategy. There’s a bonus session. This is done in your kitchen in your pajamas. Go to the back tables. Come on guys, get off your ass and do something. If you don’t do this, I’ll still love you, but we won’t talk anymore.

At the end, I’m worn out. But I don’t buy. I pick up my free gift. An MP3 player with one gigabyte of memory:

Later, I make a few calls.

I call Tarek and Christina’s office, but they don’t call back.

I call HGTV, which sends me a statement that says the network has nothing to do with these hotel seminars.

And I talk to Jim Carlson, the chief executive of Success Path, the company that partners with the couple to put on these seminars. (Coming next, Reno, Bozeman and Winnipeg.)

He explains that those who attend the three-day workshop get further opportunities to buy learning products that cost up to $40,000.

For that, I’d want Tarek and Christina to redo my kitchen.

crowd

I tell the CEO I got fooled by the invitation.

“Obviously, a lot of people there think that,” he says. “We’ve got our marketing reviewed. It’s not false, and doesn’t contain any inaccuracies. We’ve had people who were disappointed.”

Then he shows me what I missed. If I somehow had found their website (I didn’t know the company name before the event), I could have read the Frequently Asked Questions:

“Will Tarek and Christina be at the event?”

Answer: “Tarek, Christina, or one of their team members will attend each event. … Unfortunately, Tarek and Christina are unable to make it to every event.”

Darn. We see what we want to see.

Done in by those pesky, overlooked little details that ruin a good fantasy.

Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

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You can’t afford to miss The Watchdog. Follow our latest reporting always at The Watchdog page.

Watchdog Dave Lieber of The Dallas Morning News is the leader of Watchdog Nation, which shows Americans how to stand up for themselves and become super consumers.

Read Watchdog Nation’s “origin” story here.

Latest on The Watchdog’s #shameATT campaign. An ethics award, then a few hours later, embarrassed in the Michael Cohen money mess

AT&T won an ethics award.

I know! I look at that sentence, and even though The Watchdog witnessed this with my own eyes the other day, it still unnerves me.

AT&T winning an ethics award is like Jerry Jones winning an award for Best General Manager. (Note: This story first appeared in The Dallas Morning News, May 10, 2018.)

But the glow among the beaming crew of a dozen or so AT&T employees who attended the Tuesday luncheon of the North Texas Ethics Association in Dallas didn’t last long.

Three hours later, the company found itself mired in the detective story of our lifetime. Dallas-based AT&T, we learned through information furnished by Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti, paid Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen $200,000 in consulting fees.

Later, various news outlets upped AT&T’s payment total to $600,000.

dave-lieber-shameATT-att-complaints

 

Paying for influence may not be illegal, but it’s worthy of an ethics discussion for sure.

AT&T didn’t try to duck and hide. In its first statement, the company said that Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, was hired in early 2017 “to provide insights into understanding the new [Trump] administration. They did no lobbying or legal work for us.”

The final payment was made in January.

In its second statement, AT&T said it “cooperated fully” with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation late last year. The company said it considers “the matter closed.”

Hardly. Nice try.

The right track?

AT&T’s award — called the 2018 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award — was accepted by David Huntley, AT&T’s senior executive vice president and chief compliance officer.

In a prepared statement, Huntley said, “Operating an ethical company is a top priority at AT&T…. Recognition like this further validates that we’re on the right track.”

Michael Webb, head of the ethics group, invited The Watchdog to attend the ceremony because, he told me, “For all of these years, I’ve been kind of watching your column.”

Then he knows that for the past dozen years, I’ve received more complaints about AT&T’s putrid customer service than any other company in America.

The award, Webb said, “is based on process, not performance.”

He said, “Our philosophy is that ethical lapses and failures will happen, but companies with strong communications and programmatic ethic practices and expectations will be in a better position to avoid and correct ethic failures.”

What did the contest judges say about AT&T?

AT&T has “a well-developed and sound ethics approach for a very large company.”

“There’s a well-stated public commitment from the CEO…”

“The company showed a willingness to publicly speak on values.”

“Strong top-down strategic management leadership with bottom-up implementation.”

Too bad nobody asked The Watchdog.

Moving jobs overseas

Is sending jobs overseas an ethical issue? Or just a business issue?

Communications Workers of America, the union that represents many AT&T employees, released a report recently that shows that AT&T continues to lay off thousands of long-time employees because it has moved much of its call center operations to Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, India, Jamaica and Philippines.

The union calls this a form of “colonization” because low-wage overseas contractors, often poorly-trained, make much less than their American counterparts.

When foreign workers make mistakes, the union report said, American employees must clean up the mess. (From The Watchdog’s mail, I know this to be true.)

In bad company

AT&T’s money went into the same shell company as money used to pay a porn star to keep her silence about a sexual fling with the president. However, there’s no evidence that AT&T’s money was used for that.

 Still, it’s not a very ethical place to be.

Same goes for the Russian oligarch who also paid into Cohen’s fund.

AT&T claims it needed “insight” into Trump’s thinking, especially with its proposed mega-merger with Time Warner, which is now tied up in a court case. So it paid Trump’s self-described fixer a quiet fee. But it didn’t work. Trump’s Justice Department sued to stop the merger anyway.

This reminds me of the International Telephone and Telegraph scandal in the Nixon administration that preceded Watergate. An I.T.T. lobbyist pledged $400,000 for the 1972 Republican convention. In a memo she wrote that the money “has gone a long way toward our negotiations on the mergers.”

Is history repeating itself?

A slush fund?

Is Essential Consultants a slush fund, defined as an unregulated fund often used for illicit purposes? We’ll find out.

“There does not appear to be any legitimate business rationale for these payments,” New Yorker magazine reports.

The magazine adds, “Put another way, did the Russians and AT&T inadvertently help to pay” for a porn star’s silence?

What a spot for Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s CEO/Chairman/President/Big Kahuna, to be in. Stephenson’s tenure as president of the Boy Scouts of America, coincidentally, is scheduled to end this month.

Stephenson has fostered a progressive image and enhanced his reputation by supporting diversity, sustainability and even the Black Lives Matter movement.

Will he mention his company’s involvement with Trump’s fixer when he gives life advice as he delivers the commencement address on May 19 at Southern Methodist University? Tell the graduates the way the world really works, sir.

I’ve talked to Stephenson in the past about his company’s customer service failures. Every month, The Watchdog sends him a report of all the complaints I receive about his company.

I created the #shameATT hashtag, and I guess I’ll bring it out again.

One day, I dream, I’ll no longer hear constantly about AT&T’s failures with its customers trying to resolve billing and service issues.

The company is too big, and with the Time Warner merger, it wants to grow even bigger.

At the ethics luncheon the other day, nobody would sit next to me. That’s a good thing because of what I’m going to say next. I’m going to rain on this sunny parade.

Congratulations to you, AT&T, on your ethics award.

Now give it back. #shameATT.

No one would sit by The Watchdog at the luncheon. Good thing, because he rained on their parade.

Watchdog Nation called leader in Texas battle to fix a broken property tax system

Watchdog Dave Lieber, columnist for The Dallas Morning News, rolled out a major campaign in 2017 against the Texas property tax system.

The campaign was called “Everybody File a Tax Protest.” Purpose: to gum up the system with legally-allowed protests and show Texans the unfairness and subjectivity that plagues the state’s big tax collection system.

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Early indications are the campaign was a big success. Protests numbers in big counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth region jumped considerably compared to the previous year.

Follow the campaign with these popular Watchdog stories as we prepare for the next step in 2018.

BOTH TWEETS

Why paying your property tax without a protest is a sucker’s game

How to file a Texas property tax protest — and why you must

Here’s what you’re saying about your 2017 property tax protest hearings

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How to soften appraisal sticker shock: Cities, school districts and counties should lower tax rates

Why property taxes are going up when they should be going down

Test your property tax IQ

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Watchdog Dave Lieber of The Dallas Morning News is the leader of Watchdog Nation, which shows Americans how to stand up for themselves and become super consumers.

Read Watchdog Nation’s “origin” story here.