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There are more than five ways, of course. There are numerous product ripoffs, as described in a recent article by Lynn Stuart Parramore, who identified textbooks and bottled water and print cartridges as a few of the ways Americans are duped into paying a lot more than reason and regulation would dictate.

And there are many industry-specific ripoffs, most notably in health care. We have the most expensive health care system in the world, and yet we're falling behind other developed countries in numerous health measures.

Here are five more industry-specific ripoffs of the American people:

1. The Retail Industry (Walmart): Building Owner Fortunes With Public Tax Money

A study in Wisconsin by the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce determined that a typical Walmart store costs taxpayers over $1.7 million per year, or about $5,815 per employee. A 2004 study in California put the cost per employee at $2,103.

For the year 2012, Walmart's pre-tax U.S. income was almost $18.7 billion. That's over $14,000 per U.S. Walmart employee.

For the year 2012, the four Walton family members made over $20 billion from their investments. That's over $15,000 per Walmart employee.

Published in Guest Commentary


The bluebirds of happiness are chirping away in our nation's treetops these days, for America is now in the fifth year of economic recovery. Let's all sing "Happy Days Are Here Again," for stock prices are reaching record highs, corporate profits are soaring, and even the unemployment numbers are on the mend.

But wait, what's this? Down below the treetops, way down there at the grassroots, poverty not only persists, but is spreading. Also, America's income disparity is worsening as middle-class workers are pushed into lower-wage jobs and poor people are pushed out entirely. Far from "Happy Days," joblessness among our lowest-income families is now the worst on record, having reached the staggering rate of 21 percent.

The plight of the poor in our Land of Plenty is so dramatic that even the Republican leaders of the U.S. House have noticed them and are reaching out with open hands. Unfortunately, they are not offering a helping hand to the needy, but a cold, hard slap in the face. On Sept. 19, in a gratuitous act of political pettiness and human callousness, the GOP slashed $4 billion-a-year out of the food stamp program. Well, they explained, the food stamp subsidy just keeps expanding, despite the recovery our economy is enjoying, so we have to stop the excess.

Published in Guest Commentary


While Colorado and Washington have de-criminalized recreational use of marijuana and twenty states allow use for medical purposes, a Louisiana man was sentenced to twenty years in prison in New Orleans criminal court for possessing 15 grams, .529 of an ounce, of marijuana.

Corey Ladd, 27, had prior drug convictions and was sentenced September 4, 2013 as a "multiple offender to 20 years hard labor at the Department of Corrections."

Marijuana use still remains a ticket to jail in most of the country and prohibition is enforced in a highly racially discriminatory manner. A recent report of the ACLU, "The War on Marijuana in Black and White," documents millions of arrests for marijuana and shows the "staggeringly disproportionate impact on African Americans."

Nationwide, the latest numbers from the FBI report that over 762,000 arrests per year are for marijuana, almost exactly half of all drug arrests.

Published in Guest Commentary

Colorado National Guard flood response.Colorado National Guard flood response.BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Many have tried, but few have succeeded. Some have made it part of their regular schtick, and make a handsome living by doing it over and over again. But try as they might, the gold standard for blaming a natural disaster -- or tragic event -- on their enemies of choice, is still held by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Now, however, with floodwaters raging in his state, Colorado pastor and radio talk show host Kevin Swanson is aiming to be a contender in the pantheon of blame-game flame-throwers. Swanson recently pointed his finger at the real causers of the floods: abortion, the legalization of marijuana, and "decadent homosexual activity." Climate change? Not so much. (For some time, Swanson resided in the school of global warming denial.)

In trying to make some sense of the cause of natural disasters, some conservative evangelical preachers have gone off the rails. Hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, floods, earthquakes and yes, even the less-than-natural terrorist attack, is blamed on abortion, gays, and yes, even the American Civil Liberties Union.

Published in Guest Commentary


Image of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant on March 16, 2011 of the four damaged reactor buildings.Image of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant on March 16, 2011 of the four damaged reactor buildings.We are now within two months of what may be humankind's most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focused on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4.

Fukushima's owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.

Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.

The one thing certain about this crisis is that Tepco does not have the scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle it. Nor does the Japanese government. The situation demands a coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.

Published in Guest Commentary


That's over and above our payments to the big companies for energy and food and housing and health care and all our tech devices. It's $6,000 that no family would have to pay if we truly lived in a competitive but well-regulated free-market economy.

The $6,000 figure is an average, which means that low-income families are paying less. But it also means that families (households) making over $72,000 are paying more than $6,000 to the corporations.

1. $870 for Direct Subsidies and Grants to Companies

The Cato Institute estimates that the U.S. federal government spends $100 billion a year on corporate welfare. That's an average of $870 for each one of America's 115 million families. Cato notes that this includes "cash payments to farmers and research funds to high-tech companies, as well as indirect subsidies, such as funding for overseas promotion of specific U.S. products and industries...It does not include tax preferences or trade restrictions."

Published in Guest Commentary


guns9 21There’s something wrong here, “something evil in our society that we Americans have to work to try to eradicate” said Dr. Janis Orlasky, chief medical officer at Med Star Washington Hospital Center, after the fatal shootings at the Naval shipyard last week. Although she made no mention of gun control laws or other restrictive measures a torrent of angry responses were quickly posted to refute what were deemed anti-gun by typically angry defenders of gun-carrying enthusiasts.

There is something terminally naive about the way our country deals with gun violence in its various letahal and injurious forms. Guns are faster and when large magazine clips are part of the mix the lethal effect can be devastating. Recent knife wielding assailants caused many painful injuries but few deaths.

And what reasonable objection can there be about background checks and what do they have to do with the Second Smendment in any case? It is beyond irrational to suggest that mental disturbance or even blindness may not be severe enough to warrant suspension of one’s right to bear arms? Just how crazy -- or a "good guy" who loves to abuse the power of guns over other people like George Zimmerman -- do you have to be to warrant some limitation on your right to be out and about carrying a lethal weapon? What if you hear voices or if you think your dog is sending you messages? Should ‘freedom’ actually translate as a license to kill, and when do the rights of anyone include the right to stand one’s ground -- however personally one's interprets that -- against real or imaginary foes?

Who among us will take the necessary action to stem the tide of violence and undertake to lessen the the gun culture’s allure? 

Dr. Orlasky would like to see her trauma center “out of business” at least when it comes to gunshot wounds. It is amazing that so many members of society are able to slough off the ravages of gun violence behavior and move seamlessly on with their lives, unless of course they are first responders or medical personnel who have unforgettable pictures forever etched in their memories.

Published in Guest Commentary
Wednesday, 28 August 2013 07:35

Will NSA Metadata Be Used to Blackmail You?


“I’m an upstanding citizen and I’m not doing anything wrong.  

I just don’t want the government invading my privacy.” 


I got into a heated argument, a disagreeable shouting match over that idea today – mostly being shouted at for nitpicking someone on my own side.  I find the above rationale to be a surface response without any thought behind it or any acknowledgement of how actual surveillance-societies of the past devolved into Orwellian abominations.  Worse still, the current drive for a “Total Information Awareness” society, where birth to death communications will be stored forever by the government, looms over us. 

NSA / Booz Allen Hamilton whistleblower Edward Snowden has said:

“…they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them.”

To that end the NSA’s operating budget has increased steadily, avoiding any cutbacks from the so-called “sequester.”  The new NSA storage facility in Utah is a central piece of this total data capture society.

“An article by Forbes estimates the storage capacity as between 3 and 12 exabytes in the near term… advances in technology could be expected to increase the capacity by orders of magnitude in the coming years.” (Wikipedia)

NSA Whistleblower William Binney revealed further problems at the National Security Agency and its runaway capabilities: 

Published in Guest Commentary

BF hurricanekatrina 82813(Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center)ROSEMARY AND WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Almost one-third of Louisiana Republicans blame President Obama for the slow and largely ineffective response to Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast, Aug. 31, 2005. More than 1,800 were killed in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana; estimates of property damage exceeded $100 billion.

Public Policy Polling reveals that 29 percent of the state’s Republicans blame Obama. Only 28 percent blame George W. Bush. The rest, according to the poll, don’t know who to blame.

The disaster occurred in the first year of George W. Bush’s second term. Barack Obama did not become president until more than three years later.

While the Bush–Cheney administration was embroiled in Iraq and developing all kinds of plans to deal with foreign terrorists, it failed to keep the homeland safe—for the second time, the first being 9/11 itself.Natural disasters have been responsible for significantly more injuries, deaths, and property damage than all terrorist attacks, both past and projected.

More than a year before Katrina hit, we had written our first article about the probability that the U.S. would be unable to provide a quick response to any natural disaster of great magnitude. We concluded “While we can’t put natural disasters into the same category as an al-Qaeda attack, they both encompass a fear of imminent danger. Death and destruction by a Category 3/4 hurricane is more imminent than an attack by Iraq ever was—and could leave more death and destruction than 9/11. Neither our home nor our land is secure.”

Published in Guest Commentary

BF 8 23 13 NSA Surveillance(Photo: DonkeyHotey )BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

“We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted…the Patriot Act.  As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.  This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.”  

- US Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall

Published in Guest Commentary
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