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Thu Nov 28, 2013 at 07:48 AM PST

Censored by Daily Kos

by Ted Rall

About a year ago, Daily Kos began running cartoons. To their credit, they paid a modest fee for them. Many alternative political cartoonists were invited; I was not.

At the time, the owner of the blog mentioned as an aside that I would be welcome, like anyone else, to post to Daily Kos. A few weeks ago, I decided to take him up on that.

Why did I post here for free? To access readers, many of whom would enjoy my work if they saw it. It was an experiment.

The experiment ended this morning. When I went to log on, I received the above message. I clicked the acknowledgement.

Which marks the end of my experiment posting to Daily Kos. I might consider altering the way I draw a political figure for a paying client. A very high-paying client. Someone who employed me full-time.

I'm sure not going to alter my drawing style for $0.00 money.

Obviously, this is no biggie. Nothing gained, nothing lost. Given the reflexive pro-Obama/pro-DNC politics of the blog and its owner, it was probably inevitable that they'd do this. It was crafty of them to choose the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to ban me. Fewer people will be around to notice or care.

This act of censorship is notable for several reasons, however:

1. This "liberal" blog has slammed me with the most severe act of censorship of my career. Since I began syndication in 1991, I have had individual cartoons killed. I have been fired, sometimes unjustly (like in 2004, when Men's Health discontinued my apolitical cartoons about sex and relationships because I opposed Bush and his wars in my political work, which they did not run). I have been kept out of publications where my work obviously belonged.

But this tops them all.

Daily Kos wasn't paying for my work. To the contrary. My cartoons were routinely among the list of High Impact Posts that elicit a lot of discussion. If you read them, you'll see that a cadre of militant Obama defenders was determined to drive me away, and they succeeded.

This is what the Democratic Party has come to: so unable to face criticism, whether from left or right, that they stifle opposing voices.

2. Despite the politics of the pro-Obama forces, there remain many liberals and progressives who remain Democrats. I encountered hundreds of them on Daily Kos. They enjoy(ed) my work. I will miss interacting with them. Fortunately, the Internet allows them to find my work in many other places, including my blog.

3. The grounds for censoring my cartoons from the site — my drawing style — are beneath contempt. Anyone familiar with me and my work knows I'm not racist. My criticisms of the president are unrelated to his race, and to say otherwise in the absence of evidence is disgusting. It should be noted that my editors at a variety of American newspapers, magazines and websites, almost all of whom are left of center politically, some of whom are black and many of whom voted for Obama, have never expressed the slightest concern about the way I draw the president.

Here is the discussion at Daily Kos, which includes a deluge of comments accusing me of drawing Obama in a racist way.

Everything is context. It is clear that many of these posters were previously unfamiliar with my work or, for that matter, with editorial cartoons. This is not surprising. Political cartoons have been pushed out of newspapers and magazines since 9/11. Many readers under 30 never see any. Still, I have a long track record. My flaws are out there for everyone to see, but racism is not one of them.

Goodbye, everyone. It's been an interesting visit. Happy Thanksgiving!

Discuss
President Obama promised to bring back all U.S. troops in 2014. Now he's pressuring the Afghan government to allow tens of thousands of soldiers and mercenaries to stay in Afghanistan at least another ten years.
President Obama promised to bring back all U.S. troops in 2014. Now he’s pressuring the Afghan government to allow tens of thousands of soldiers and mercenaries to stay in Afghanistan at least another ten years.

Originally posted at Rall.com.

Discuss
U.S. combat troops will remain in Afghanistan until 2024. This means that it will have been possible for three generations of soldiers to have served from the same family in that losing war.
U.S. combat troops will remain in Afghanistan until 2024. This means that it will have been possible for three generations of soldiers to have served from the same family in that losing war.

Originally at Rall.com.

Discuss

Originally posted at ANewDomain.net.

If the business of America is business, which is better for America? A vibrant technology industry that is highly competitive in the global marketplace? Or a highly intrusive police state whose reach into our digital lives puts East Germany's Stasi to shame?

The question of privacy versus police state cost-benefit analysts occurred to me earlier this week when NPR aired a story about the National Security Agency's spying on Americans. "If cybersecurity is, in fact, a big threat, then our government should be doing everything in its power to make sure that [U.S. companies'] systems are as safe and secure as possible against all adversaries," ACLU technologist Christopher Soghoian told NPR.  Protecting American business is one of the NSA's self-stated core missions.

Instead, as Edward Snowden has revealed, the NSA is a threat to American businesses online. The agency's operatives don't view the security weaknesses of U.S. companies as problems to be fixed. To the contrary: NSA spooks see holes as opportunities to scoop up data. "When they learn about those vulnerabilities, they have to sit on them and exploit them rather than telling Microsoft or Google or Apple or Facebook," Soghoian said.

As a result, U.S. companies are more vulnerable to industrial espionage than their foreign competitors. Also, because the NSA makes copies of data and moves it through the Internet, it gives hackers more places to intercept and sneak into American corporate secrets.

"This bodes ill for the U.S. economy, as the rest of the world will turn its back on U.S. Internet companies," predicts Phil Zimmermann, creator of the encryption tool PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). "The NSA policies will cause enormous collateral damage to our economy."

Shut Down the NSA?

To someone like me, who is appalled that the U.S. government is listening to my phone calls and reading my emails for no other reason than the fact that they can, one solution keeps rising to the forefront: shut down the NSA. Of course, those are my politics. I don't trust government.

Most Americans agree with me. Cashiering the spooks of Fort Meade would appeal to many of the 74% of Americans who oppose NSA surveillance on them.

But then I began thinking about the vast scale of the post-9/11 police state. Tens of thousands of employees. Hundreds of thousands of private contractors. Many of them, like former CIA contractor Snowden, paid six-figure salaries. That huge data farm in Utah.

That's a lot of economic activity.

For the moment, let's set aside the moral and political ramifications of law-breaking citizens (the NSA's charter prohibits both intentional and accidental data collection in the United States) who spy on law-abiding citizens.

As a simple matter of short-term cost-benefit analysis, what's better for the American economy: privacy or police state?

The Price of NSA Spying

Companies and individuals value their privacy. Which is why, given a choice between trusting their data to American tech outfits like Google and competitors in, say, Europe, a lot of customers are taking their business elsewhere.

Sure, security might be compromised at European Internet corporations. France, Germany and other Europowers have their own NSA-like signals intelligence services. But there's no Edouard Snowden for France. People know the U.S. is completely infested by the NSA (and as we learned recently, the CIA). U.S. companies have lost billions of dollars in contracts and merger opportunities since Edward Snowden revealed the incomprehensibly comprehensive nature of the NSA's interception and storage of digital communications and, more damningly, the willingness of firms like AT&T, Verizon and Apple to cooperate with these illegal violations of privacy (and, in AT&T's case, to sell out their customers' data for cash).

Not that U.S. companies that try to protect their customers are allowed to do so. The USA-Patriot Act specifically prohibits recipients of NSA surveillance demands from disclosing them publicly. The owner of one business shut down his company rather than turn over his encryption keys to the federal government; he is still being pursued and harassed as retribution for his defiance.

The word is out: your data isn't safe in the United States.

The NSA leak stories have been hitting U.S. companies in their balance sheets.

"Cisco Systems warned that its revenues could fall by as much as 10% because of the level of uncertainty or concerns engendered by NSA operations. Cisco saw its new orders fall by 12% in the developing world, 25% in Brazil and 30% in Russia. This is in contrast to the 8% growth Cisco saw in the previous quarter," Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner wrote in The Guardian. He quotes analysis by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation that says the U.S. cloud computing industry stands to lose between $22 and $35 billion over the next three years.

Forrester Research says ITIF's "estimate is too low" and "could be as high as $180 billion or a 25% hit to overall IT service provider revenues in that same timeframe."

Wall Street is so concerned about the NSA and CIA as an albatross on the American tech sector's future earnings that institutional investors are pressuring companies like AT&T and Verizon to stop cooperating with the feds. IBM blames its 22% drop in business in China on concerns about NSA spying. (Considering China's sophisticated cyberhacking operations, the irony is thick — but there's a big difference between suspecting you're being spied upon and knowing it.)

The European Union is considering building its own no-Google/no-Apple/no-Verizon cloud to keep the NSA at bay.

There's no way to know for sure whether these fears will be realized. Google claims its bottom line has been unaffected. Some technorati say U.S. dominance of the cloud, coupled with the awkwardness of encryption protocols, will make it impractical for other countries to build a non-U.S. alternacloud. They'll know the cloud is compromised but they'll use it anyway.

Security analyst Richard Stiennon goes so far as to predict a virtuous cycle that would help the U.S.: as more companies will invest in encryption to stymie the NSA, the NSA will invest more to break it. Private industry and the NSA will hire more people. Go, economy, go!

But let's assume the worst-case scenario — Forrester's $180 billion downturn in revenue during the next three years. Would that loss be so disastrous that it would be worth shutting down the NSA?

The Profits of NSA Spying

As in the former Soviet Union, a vast array of government agencies spy on citizens in the United States. In addition to the FBI, CIA and NSA, there's Homeland Security and the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency). Each of the four branches of the U.S. military has its intelligence unit. There are at least 16 federal intelligence agencies in the U.S., including obscure organizations like the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which makes maps. The warm-and-fuzzy State Department has its innocuous-sounding Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Major police departments like the NYPD have their own intelligence gathering operations.

However, the NSA alone would be the target of our theoretical shutdown. Were President Obama to announce tomorrow that the NSA were going away, the CEOs of American tech firms could call their overseas counterparts and say: "Let's do business! The evildoers are gone!"

$60 billion a year, back in America where they belong.

So let's try to get a handle on how much economic activity the NSA generates.

Recently leaked documents show that the agency receives $1 billion a year off the books, as part of Congress' secret "black budget."

Steve Aftergood, director of the government secrecy program at the Federation of American Scientists guesstimates to CNN that the NSA's share of the annual intelligence budget runs about $10 billion a year. Total, then, let's say $11 billion. Reliable leaks split the difference: $10.5 billion.

The NSA directly employs between 35,000 and 55,000 employees. But that's only a start.

In his book The Shadow Factory, James Bamford says the NSA outsources a lot of spying to private contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton, where Snowden worked. "At the same time [then NSA director] Hayden was building his empire within Fort Meade, he was also creating a shadow NSA: of the $60 billion going to the intelligence community, most of it — about $42 billion, an enormous 70 percent — was going to outside contractors," writes Bamford.

OK, so make that total NSA budget $50.3 billion a year.

But that's not all.

"Of the 4.9 million people with clearance to access 'confidential and secret” government information, 1.1 million, or 21%, work for outside contractors, according to a report from [current NSA chief] Clapper's office," the Associated Press reported in January 2013. "Of the 1.4 million who have the higher 'top secret' access, 483,000, or 34%, work for contractors."

Snowden was one of 500,000 private contractors with access to the NSA's PRISM and other classified domestic surveillance databases.

Slicing the Data: Budgets vs. Employees            

Two back-of-the-envelope ways to compare the relative benefits of forms of economic activity are raw business — the total amount of money that goes into it — and total salaries.

The sum of the National Security Agency's native and outsourced/private contractor annual budget is, as we've seen, about $50 billion per annum. Since Forrester Research — the glummest prognosticator — worries that the U.S. tech sector will lose $60 billion over each of the next three years — the raw numbers are roughly a wash. At most, the U.S. economy would be up $10 billion annually by shutting the NSA — a drop in the bucket compared to, say, the three-quarters of a trillion bucks the United States spends on "defense"/war every year.

A more useful measure of economic activity is employment times average salary. Total salaries paid to actual individuals powers spending — and spending is what powers a consumer-based economy.  As I wrote in 2012: "General Motors, a company with $39 billion in equity value, directly employs 207,000 people, plus many more indirectly through its suppliers. Facebook has nearly twice the market capitalization ($67 billion) but employs a miserly 1,400 workers. On Wall Street, Facebook is worth more than GM. On Main Street, GM is worth 250 Facebooks."

So which affects more payroll: the post-9/11 security state, or a potential 25% loss of future revenues in the tech sector?

If you're wondering why the recovery doesn't seem too recovery-y, here's why: For a sector that represents the hopes and dreams of the postindustrial economy, America's technology industry doesn't employ that many people. According to TechAmerica Foundation, "the U.S. tech industry added 67,400 net jobs in 2012, for bringing the total number of tech workers to 5.95 million." This is a 1.1% increase. Average salary: $93,800.

Woot.

Let's assume similar growth in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Subtract Forrester's 25% growth cut due to the NSA. That's about 210,000 fewer jobs over the next three years. Total lost salaries: roughly $10 billion.

Lay off those 500,000 Snowden-level NSA employees and contractors, lowballing their average salaries at $80,000 each, and you've got $40 billion in lost wages.

It's not even close. From an economic standpoint, the United States can't afford privacy.

Discuss
The U.S. has committed at least 15,000 combat troops and billions of dollars to extend the war of Afghanistan another 10 years, to 2024. Imagine what Americans would have thought if Bush had told them what was in store after 9/11.
The U.S. has committed at least 15,000 combat troops and billions of dollars to extend the war of Afghanistan another 10 years, to 2024. Imagine what Americans would have thought if Bush had told them what was in store after 9/11.

Originally posted at Rall.com.

Discuss
At 75, he's finally viewed as mature.
This week marks an important date for an iconic American politician. No, I'm not talking about the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK.  Jerry Brown, 75, is about to become the longest-serving governor in California history.

The former "Governor Moonbeam," formerly a lightening rod for his alleged 1970s-era flakiness (though, in fairness, he didn't deserve it), is now widely viewed as effective, mature and effective in Sacramento. Though I have taken issue with some of his policies, most notably kowtowing to well-connected big energy companies, including firing a conscientious regulator, I have generally been relatively impressed.

Considering my view of most politicians — they're lying scum — "relatively impressed" is as good as it gets.

It's hard to believe, after this long strange journey, that the phrase "Governor Brown" not only no longer shocks, but is something we expect, like the setting of the sun in the west. Californians like him, his policies, not as much.

To mark Brown's historical moment, I drew from "The Jetsons" and "Futurama" for a tongue-in-cheek look at what a perpetual Brown governorship might look like. Cryogenically preserved in a jar, with cryogenic Sutter the Corgi at his side, a slightly dystopian California's future Dear Leader rules benevolently, issuing diktats and 500-year plans (get it) from a telescreen near you.

I, for one, welcome our future non-corporeal overlord.

Originally posted at Rall.com and at The Los Angeles Times.

Discuss
JFK was assassinated 50 years ago today. And I was there! Gather near, cartoon readers, and revel in the thrilling account of what I was doing at the time.
JFK was assassinated 50 years ago today. And I was there! Gather near, cartoon readers, and revel in the thrilling account of what I was doing at the time. Originally posted at Rall.com.
Discuss

Thu Nov 21, 2013 at 07:15 AM PST

Cartoon: Will Porn for Food

by Ted Rall

After L.A. County  passed a law requiring condom use in porn movies, X-rated film production dropped by 95%.
According to a porn industry trade group, L.A. County has seen a 95% plunge in film-production permits in 2013 compared with the same period last year. This follows last year's passage of Measure B, which mandates that porn actors use condoms on set.

County officials have declined to send inspectors to porn sets due to an outstanding lawsuit. A judge has ruled that unannounced on-set inspections may violate the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. Nevertheless, the chilling effect remains. Apparently the business has migrated from the San Fernando Valley to Ventura County.

When an industry collapses, the first thing I think of as a cartoonist is of panhandlers with "Will __ for Food" signs. So that's where I started with this cartoon. Since the aesthetics of porn tend toward the undignified side, a story like this is comic gold. These things pretty much draw themselves.

Still, this is serious business.

The county is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual tax revenue. As for the purpose of the law — to encourage safe sex — this measure appears to be completely ineffective. The movies are still being made, those rascals still aren't being wrapped and viewers won't get the voter-desired safe-sex message. As far as I can tell, the only thing that got accomplished by Measure B was to scoot the sets a few miles north and west.

"I wouldn't mind using condoms more," performer Lily LaBeau told Slate. "It's just not what people want to see." There's no empirical data to support or deny that claim. But that's clearly the mainstream view within the industry — and they're voting with their feet to prove they believe it.

Posted at: Rall.com and the Los Angeles Times.

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"Cinéma Vérité" as Political Propaganda

Paul Greengrass is a gifted director who specializes in historical reenactments, a once marginal genre that in recent years hits the sweet spot, earning critical plaudits as well as bringing in bank (Greengrass' "United 93," Stephen Frears' "The Queen," Oliver Hirschbiegel's "Downfall," about Hitler's final days in his bunker). Greengrass' latest entry in this field is "Captain Phillips," a retelling of the 2009 hijacking of a container ship by Somali pirates. Tom Hanks stars in the title role.

Watching this film left me with an uneasy feeling, like I'd digested a delicious meal devoid of nutrition. It was a fun drama. But I didn't learn anything. Why not?

This is solid Hollywood filmmaking. Tight scripting, sharp editing and unpretentious cinematography deliver a story that keeps you in your seat long after you began having to pee. Hanks delivers one of his finest performances, driving a stake into his rep as an always-playing-himself actor; Barkhad Abdi is a sensational revelation as pirate leader Abduwali Muse.

But what does this film mean? What message does Greengrass convey to his audience?

In random order, here are the takeaways: leadership is tough. Bravery exacts a high cost. In an interconnected world — we watch Phillips email his wife after the pirates' first attempt to board the Maersk Alabama — it's nevertheless possible to be alone, isolated and vulnerable. Intermodal transport, an industry in which vast ships carrying thousands of tons of goods are piloted by an unarmed skeleton crew, is surreal. If nothing else, "Capitain Phillips" is worth watching because it opens a window into the lonely lives of the men and women responsible for keeping our store shelves stocked.

Pull out of the multiplex parking lot, however, and you quickly realize the real revelation: "Phillips" is pro-government propaganda.

Greengrass has created the most frightening kind of propaganda — so effective that for most people it will become the definitive historical account of an event. Unlike the hilariously shrill propaganda flicks of the past, from "Triumph of the Will" to Cold War-era artifacts like "Rambo" and "Red Dawn," the new breed pretends not to editorialize. Affecting a quiet, Zoloft-inflected tone and economical, apparently straightforward scriptwriting, this movie plays it close to the vest, coming as deadly fair and serious. Which makes it easy to miss what is left out.

This new cinéma non-vérité uses high art to sanitize history in order to elevate the imperialist, militarist geopolitical agenda of the U.S. government in its post-9/11 war on terror.

           Kathryn Bigelow never scratches the surface of Osama bin Laden's motivations in "Zero Dark Thirty." He's just a target, a cipher in a beard, so we don't care when he dies. Her film is thrilling yet vacuous.

It is far from settled history that United Flight 93 was brought down by the passenger revolt — the 9/11 Commission Report leaves open the possibility that it was shot down. But that would prompt uncomfortable questions. Greengrass' film, which unquestioningly accepts the "let's roll" scenario, all but sets it in stone for posterity.

Ben Affleck's "Argo" is devoid of political context, especially the historical basis for the Iranian revolutionaries' contempt for the United States. Best not to mention the coup, the shah, corruption or torture.

American movies are about choices. Will the protagonist choose right or wrong (and which is which)? In "Captain Phillips," however, the ethical quandaries rest not on Hanks' character, who handles his ordeal as courageously and competently as you could expect, but on Abdi's shoulders. It's more than a little odd.

"We are just fisherman," Abdi explains after seizing control of the vessel. Fortunes reverse after crewmen hidden in the engine room capture him and trade him for their captain, who offers them $30,000 in cash and a lifeboat to leave the ship. Disgusted that the Somalis won't settle for less than "millions" and physically brutalized, Hanks spits "you are not a fisherman!" at Abdi an hour later into the movie.

It's a puzzling narrative choice. Not only is Abdi's a supporting role, we don't see much deliberation. Muse is in it for the big bucks all along. So are his colleagues.

Passing up the obvious chance to use this mother of all culture clashes as a means to discuss race and class, Greengrass has nevertheless succumbed to the hoary colonial instinct to ask, almost out loud, why $30,000 isn't enough to sate a gang of starvation-thin guys from one of the world's poorest countries. The closest we get to an answer is a tossed-off aside by Abdi that the fish "left" Somali waters.

The background, mentioned only obliquely in this movie about Somali piracy, is that Somalia's fishing industry had been decimated. After Somalia collapsed into the sectarian civil conflict in the early 1990s, the absence of a strong central government — coupled with the indifference of the international community — opened a vacuum for opportunists. Foreign trawlers and other vessels dump industrial waste, toxins and even nuclear waste — including uranium — off the Somali coast. Foreign fishing ships use drift nets to steal the fish that survive.

Time magazine reported in 2009 that Somalis turned to piracy after Western ships made it impossible to fish: "A United Nations report in 2006 said that, in the absence of the country's at one time serviceable coastguard, Somali waters have become the site of an international 'free for all,' with fishing fleets from around the world illegally plundering Somali stocks and freezing out the country's own rudimentarily-equipped fishermen. According to another U.N. report, an estimated $300 million worth of seafood is stolen from the country's coastline each year."

Desperate Somali fishermen formed vigilante flotillas to go after foreign fishing vessels. Some robbed the poachers at gunpoint. This turned out to be much more lucrative than fishing. Piracy became a $50 million a year industry.

If Abduwali Muse isn't really a fisherman, he didn't have that option to begin with.

Postscript: Somalis who still try to fish are harassed, questioned and detained by American warships assigned to the Horn of Africa to deter pirates. (In "Captain Phillips," this Navy practice is whitewashed.)

Two or three additional lines of dialogue would have enlightened American movie audiences about the complexity of the piracy issue. Exposing the antagonists' motivations would have made "Captain Phillips" a smarter movie, a tragedy in which opposing forces, neither side evil, are forced into a clash in which at least one side must die. Greengrass gives us all the moral nuance of cowboy-versus-Injun movie.

"Capitain Phillips" is the triumph of suburban schlubs and high-tech military hardware over hollow-eyed black men in rags, horribly unfamiliar with basic oral hygiene.

By the way, if some of the Maersk Alabama's crewmen are to be believed, Phillips was a lousy captain who imperiled them by skirting too close to the Somali coast. Deborah Waters, an attorney representing 11 crewmen who are suing Maersk, said: "He told them he wouldn't let pirates scare him or force him to sail away from the coast."

Maybe, maybe not. Only those who were there know for sure.

Making films is also about choice.

When you make a film based on history, it's impossible to include every detail. Nor should you try.

Still, basic background facts are crucial to understanding the event being depicted. Omitting or spinning issues (why Somalis resorted to piracy) strips them of context. Deploying a matter-of-fact tone makes these cinematic lies (because the Somalis are poor and greedy) credible.

It is unforgivable to promote America's we're-the-good-guys party line at the expense of the victims of the system. (Muse, politically voiceless in this film, is serving 33 years in federal prison.) Dressing up a perversion of truth in pretty lighting, and stuffing tainted dialogue into the mouths of great actors, results in an affront to art as well as history.

Originally posted at Rall.com.

Discuss
The US government argues that it possesses "absolute control" over the memories of Guantánamo torture victims because what happened to them was classified — yet it released those "CIA memories" to Hollywood filmmakers. Sure, it's like something from a Philip K. Dick story. But don't complain. Content is king again!
The US government argues that it possesses "absolute control" over the memories of Guantánamo torture victims because what happened to them was classified — yet it released those "CIA memories" to Hollywood filmmakers. Sure, it's like something from a Philip K. Dick story. But don't complain. Content is king again!

Originally posted at Rall.com.

Discuss
Drones work with deadly accuracy. The NSA has a limitless budget. Why not let these agencies that perform their duties well step in to help with the beleaguered Obamacare rollout?
Drones work with deadly accuracy. The NSA has a limitless budget. Why not let these agencies that perform their duties well step in to help with the beleaguered Obamacare rollout?

Originally posted at Rall.com

Discuss

Thu Nov 14, 2013 at 10:37 AM PST

Cartoon: The Affordable Cartoon Act

by Ted Rall

The Affordable Care Act is the ultimate gravy train for insurers. They get 50 million new customers, all of whom have to buy their product at whatever they choose to charge them. Too bad the rest of us can't get the same deal. Or can we?
The Affordable Care Act is the ultimate gravy train for insurers. They get 50 million new customers, all of whom have to buy their product at whatever they choose to charge them. Too bad the rest of us can’t get the same deal. Or can we?

Originally posted at Rall.com.

Discuss
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