The Consumer Complaints Blog

Fighting the trained monkey in modern society.

August 30, 2010

Patrick Byrne

Filed under: Musings,Society — Editor @ 2:29 pm

To say that Patrick Byrne is a complex corporate executive would be an understatement.

On one hand, the founder, chairman and CEO of is a well-known vocal proponent of free markets, smaller government and school choice. But at the same time, he’s called for greater SEC oversight, has written a CEO Owner’s Guide to ensure stronger ethics in business leadership, and is adamant about a crackdown on naked short selling of stock, a stance that has provoked the wrath of Wall Street.

Patrick Michael Byrne is chairman and CEO of, Inc., a Utah-based internet retailer that has been publicly traded since 2002. Under Patrick’s leadership the company’s annual revenue has grown from $1.8 million in 1999 to over $800 million in 2009.

Patrick received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and Asian studies from Dartmouth College, a master’s in philosophy from Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar,and a doctorate in philosophy from Stanford University. He has taught at the university level and frequently guest-lectures on business, the Internet, leadership and ethics.

Before founding, Patrick served as chairman, president and CEO of Centricut, LLC, a manufacturer of industrial torch consumables, then held the same three positions at Fechheimer Brothers, Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company that manufactures police, firefighter and military uniforms.

In 2001, Patrick began,’s socially responsible store for products handcrafted by artisans from developing nations and rural areas of the USA. To date, more than $50 million has been returned to Worldstock’s artisan suppliers.

A self-described “classical liberal,” Patrick believes that our nation’s future depends primarily on a sound educational system and a healthy capital market. Towards those ends, Patrick serves as chairman of the Milton & Rose Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, supporting legislative reform to bring educational choice to parents. Patrick has also founded 19 schools internationally that currently educate more than 6,000 combined students.

In 2005, Patrick began a vigorous campaign against corruption in our capital markets through securities manipulation. His stance on naked short selling – an illegal form of market manipulation  experts believe has damaged thousands of promising public companies -quickly caught the attention of Wall Street analysts and reporters and remains a point of high controversy today, as the country recovers from the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression. “Our capital markets mean your savings,” Byrne says about his campaign. “Rogue hedge funds are killing businesses for profit. That doesn’t mean I’m against capitalism. It just means there needs to be more controls in place.”
Byrne says he is consistent in his thinking. He cites his belief in economic freedom, that he wants people to stop exploiting the system’s loopholes for personal gain and rallies around a common cry that education is at the root of empowering today’s employees as well as our youth.

Patrick also holds many interests outside of e-commerce. He holds a black belt in tae kwon do and at one time even pursued a career in boxing. Being a cancer survivor, it was important for Patrick to prove that nothing can stand in his way. Hoping to raise awareness and funds for cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Patrick has cycled across the country four times. In 2000, while on his last ride, he raised record-breaking funds for the institute from across the nation.

This type of outspokenness has made Byrne a polarizing figure over the past few years and has drawn quite a few critics — as well as champions.
All that has done is crystallize Byrne’s resolve. It hasn’t distracted him from his passions, including his belief that fighting poverty and educating young people must be priorities. Byrne has personally founded 19 schools internationally, and in 2001, he founded, an micro site that sells handcrafted products from artisans in developing nations and from underprivileged artisans in the United States. Overstock keeps a low profit margin on these items and ensures that the artisans receive, on average, 60 percent of the total revenue.

With all of this, there’s one thing just about everybody can agree on about Byrne — he’s extremely passionate. But he has also shown a knack for growing a business that’s hard to dispute. In just over 10 years, Byrne has taken from a $1.8 million start-up and transformed it into a public company that generates more than $800 million in annual revenue and receives top-notch customer service rankings.

Byrne has said the key to his ethical values is the “Hindu term ‘Dharma,’ that is usually translated to ‘duty,’ but it means ‘the way you’re wired.’ I don’t think of myself as some super-ethical guy; it’s just the way I’m wired. But when you see certain things that are bad, you’re supposed to stop them, and when you see some chance to do some good in the world, you do that.

It’s a lot easier if you start off ethically, and it comes from having the right heroes. If you have the right heroes as a kid, you end up modeling yourself after them. Then it becomes easy. It’s not what courses you take in college.”

Byrne has been a vocal supporter of small businesses, believing that their success is directly related with the recovery of the American economy. His “Main Street Revolution Initiative” is an effort intended to increase the visibility of small, local businesses by giving them an avenue for exposure to national markets.
?“The point of this program is to sell products we’ve sourced from entrepreneurs around the country,” Byrne said. “By joining our network, small-business owners can reduce their supply chain costs and expand the awareness of their products among a much bigger audience.” is working with local chambers of commerce to find small-business owners to participate in the program. In addition to helping “homegrown” businesses reach a national audience, the program helps consumers support small businesses they otherwise might never have heard of. hopes the Main Street Revolution initiative will be as successful as the Worldstock program, which it launched in 2001. As of April, the Worldstock program-which gives global artisans from places like Bali, Columbia, Ghana, Nepal and Thailand the chance to sell their products on surpassed $50 million in total payments. It’s also a top tab on the home page.

Even after all the hard-work he’s put in to building the, surviving testicular cancer and campaigning against harmful financial practices like naked short selling, Patrick Byrne still has to hold his own against harsh critics and lobbyists.

He regularly defends his progressive views on television and online with the hopes of making a difference on millions of lives. Whether as a panelist on Fox News, or debating financial regulations on CNBC, Byrne is considered a credible source on the economy and was noted as one of the few people to have forecasted an oncoming crisis. Byrne saw fault in the global banking industries use of credit and sub-prime mortgages and warned online and on screen about the possible dangers that would eventually come to hit the worlds economy. Although, as the recovery continues and Americans try to climb their way out of debt and fiscal trouble, Byrne has yet to be given the full credit he deserves.

Yet, Patrick carries on because he knows that his work and its value to the people he helps and serves is what is most important. continues to excel in providing excellent customer service satisfaction by offering quality goods at a low price. Byrne may never be recognized for the work he has done, but as long as he helped a struggling student or middle class families carry on one more day, then he can feel proud about his many accomplishments.

January 2, 2010

Little Lie Big Lie about food and Stephen Harper

Filed under: Society — Editor @ 3:20 pm

I remember a while back Steven Harper stating the price of food will not go up due to the recession. Well I am guessing about a year or so ago, manufacturers changed their packaging of most all food products. I wondered why they were doing that. The reason for it was they have cut the quantity of food per package to a little more than half the size it used to be, and charge the same price or a little more for it. So sure the price of food didn’t go up much, but the amount you get for the same price was cut in half. They did it a sneaky way, little by little, in hope that people would not notice. Do they think we are all idiots or what? This really makes me furious!! It’s not only in grocery stores either, it’s in restaurants. Tim Horton’s for example. The price of a measly little tim bit has gone up 6 cents in about a year, and the size of them has been cut in half. Have you noticed that fitting 40 tim bits in one of those boxes is not nearly as hard as it used to be? When you got them before you couldn’t close the box it was so full, now there is room to spare.

This article was submitted by one of our readers. Penciltrick cannot make any claims as to its authenticity but the article was accepted on a good faith belief that it is an accurate and truthful account of the events listed.

October 8, 2007

Shackled by the Neck

Filed under: Society — Editor @ 2:43 pm

Burma’s Long Neck Karen Hill Tribe chose exploitation in a tourist village rather than go back to a civil war which borders on genocide
By Antonio Graceffo

The Burmese civil war, often viewed as a genocide, committed against Burma’s tribal minorities, has been raging off-and-on for a period of nearly fifty years. Estimates claim that as many as two million refugees, many of the tribal peoples, have fled over the border into neighboring Thailand. The Long Neck Karen tribe, so called because their women wear multiple neck rings, which elongate the neck, to several times normal size, have found refuge in artificial, tourist villages, where visitors, both Thai and foreign, pay a heavy entrance fee to gawk at the unusual looking people.

One such tourism village is Hoy Sua Toa Long Neck Karin village, located in Thailand’s Mae Hong Song Province, within sight of the Burmese border. After paying their entry, tourists will find that the entire village is one huge shop, with women and children selling goods and posing for photos. There are no Karen men to be seen. Traditionally, tribal people lack a merchant class, and yet the village is 100% dedicated to the sale of trinkets. Karen in Burma live by planting and cultivating rice, raising animals, and by hunting. In Hoy Sua Tao, however, there are no rice fields.

Karen Long Necked Woman

“It’s their choice.” Said Som Sak Seta, a guide who takes tourists to the Long Neck Karin Villages. “The Karen can make money, wearing their neck rings in the camp, or they can go back in the refugee camp. They don’t have a right to stay (in Thailand). This is the compromise of the governors of this place, so the Karen can stay inside of the Thai border and make some money, and the governors can get some money as well.”

Ajan Prasit Leeprechaa, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University is himself a member of the Hmong tribe, a group persecuted in Lao, for fighting along side the Americans in the Indochina conflict. While countless Hmong families languish in refugee camps, awaiting resettlement in the USA, Ajan Prasit uses his education to study and help Thailand’s many tribal people.

Ajan Prasit explained the Karen predicament this way. “The Karen are faced with four options. Live in a tourist village, become official refugees, go back to the war in Burma, or number four, now some countries like New Zealand offer them a chance to go live in cultural tourism villages abroad.”

All of these options are only options if the tribal people are made aware of their rights, which most are not. The Long Neck Karen are typically singled out, because of their appearance, scooped up and deposited in the tourism villages, before reaching the UN camps. Allowing Long Neck Karen to gain refugee status would not be in the best business interest of the village owners, who collect money from the tourists.

Owning a group of Karen is a lucrative business.

“Some Thai made a fake village in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, and stole some Karen from here to live there. They charged 1,000 Baht or more for the entrance fee. But, the Mae Hong Song government went down and took them back here already.” Said Som Sak Seta.

All legal residents of Thailand are given some type of an ID card, with various rights attached. Obviously, citizens get the most rights. Legal aliens may be grated rights such as employment or residence. Because the Long Neck Karen in the tourist villages have no legal status, they have no rights of residence, employment, or freedom of movement in Thailand.

A Long Neck Karin Karen girl, named Mali, told us she hadn’t been given any type of ID card, although she had already lived in Thailand for more than twelve years.

Do you have any other papers for residence or anything?

“No, I don’t have anything. They just let me stay here.”

Can you go into town? Can you go into Mae Hong Song?

“I can, but I can’t stay overnight. I can just go there and buy some food. Afterwards, I have to come back here. I have to stay here.”

In Burma, the Karen people would be engaging in agriculture, as well as hunting and gathering forest products, as their people have done for centuries. But in the tourism villages, they work as full time sellers of trinkets. Normally, the Karen culture would be tied to the land, the jungle, and the agricultural rhythms. As salespeople, the Karen have lost their culture completely.

Trincket Sales

We asked Mali if her younger sister, who was born in Thailand, had an ID card.

“No, no we don’t. None of us have an id card, none of us.” Said Mali.

Other Karen have explained that the Thai government is willing to give ID cards to babies born in Thailand, as long as the birth is registered. The same Karen said that they were either unaware of the law at the time their children were born, or that the owners of the villages actually prevented the Karen from obtaining ID cards for fear of losing revenues.

Mali explained how the Karen business worked. “If we stay here and wear the rings around our neck? They will give us 1,500 Baht per month, each. But the men don’t get money because they don’t wear the rings.”

Do they give you rice, something to eat here?

“Yes, they give us 180 Baht per person, per month. So, we take that money and we go to buy rice and food.”

If you don’t wear the rings, will they give you money?

“No, if we don’t wear the rings, we don’t get the money. So, the men won’t get the 1500 Baht. They only get 180 Baht for rice, per month, per person.”

Have you ever thought about going to work in town?

“No, I can’t go. I just can’t go.”

Have you ever thought about what kind of job you would want to get?

“I have been thinking about that? Someday if I can, I would like to go to work in town. But, we wear this metal around our neck, so I don’t think we can go. I think we just can stay here and sell souvenirs.”

Sales Woman

Thai spies, in yellow shirts, hung around, photographing my team and eves dropping on our conversations. Finally, to avoid putting ourselves or the Karen in jeopardy, we had Som Sak Seta take us to a “real” village, called Baan Nai Soi, where it was much easier to do interviews. Som Sak Seta explained the soldiers were only there to guard the border, merely a few kilometers away. While the soldiers sat on a cooler, sipping a coke, an eighteen year old Karen girl, named Zember, told her story.

Zember only moved back to the village when she was about seven or eight, the age when girls take their first rings. She followed the custom, adding one ring per year, till she was sixteen. Finally, she had them removed in an attempt to gain more comprehensive citizenship rights and be able to migrate down to “urban” Mae Hong Son without being gawked at as a freak

Since removing the rings, she finds herself in a situation of double jeopardy. Now, not only does she still have the lowly status of being a stateless Karen refugee, living in a sideshow, but the Karen elders shun her as a traitor to the ring-wearing community.

Zember said that she does make frequent trips down to the city during daylight.

In recent years, Thailand, like many Asian countries, has been rewriting their laws to increase human rights and freedoms. The issues facing the tribal people do not seem to result from a lack of legislation, but rather, a lack of enforcement. Too often, it seems the whim of the local authority prevents people, both Thai and tribal, from accessing rights granted them by the federal government. High percentages of illiteracy and low levels of education among the tribal people also add to the problem.

Although none of the Karen came right out and said it, they must be living under tremendous pressure, knowing that they have no legal right of residence, no right to property ownership, and as far as they know, no access to legal recourse. Add to this the ever present specter of deportation to a war, where they are considered the enemy, and it is no wonder that the tribal people lack the internal strength to stand up for themselves.

Tribal people tend to think in very tangible, concrete realities. And one reality which they see everyday is, as bad as the situation in Houy Sua Toa is, no one is shooting at them. Additionally, they have an income and they have their children and families with them. So, on some level, they are better off than they would be in Burma. And of course, at any time, they are free to return to the war.

Karen woman and her child.

The Puyai Ban, village owners who pocket most of the tourism revenue, evoke images of the war as a justification for what they are doing. Tourists, headed into Houy Sua Toa will notice a huge display of bombs and mines, right near the entrance.

“They are just telling what kind of bombs, and how bad it is for these people, so the tourists can know.” Explained Som Sak Seta.

Som Sak Seta told us that for a brief period, the Thai government had been issuing ID cards to the Karen.

“Now the Karen just don’t get the ID cards anymore.” Som Sak Seta. “They (Puyai Ban) prevent the people from becoming Thai citizens. They are trying not to give them anything.”

“If the government gives them the card, and the people in charge of this income let them have the card, and they become Thai citizens, the Long Neck Karen will disappear. So, no more income and no more attraction. They are trying to keep these people as Long Neck Karen and pay them 1500 Baht a moth, and keep them happy.”

So, what if the Karen disappeared? Mae Hong Song province would just be short of income. Isn’t that so?

“Usually there is a lot of income from foreign tourists. Normally the people who get the money for the entrance fee will develop the roads or build a temple or something in the village, but these people only develop their pockets.”

“The Karen said that if they had to relocate to another artificial village, they would not go there. They would move into the refugee camp. They don’t want to go farther from the border, into the interior. Here, they have NGOs to look after them, like the UN. So, they might have a chance to go to a third country as refugees. Some of them have already moved to Holland, USA, and Australia. I think already, more than 500 have been resettled into third countries by aid organizations.”

“If they stay here they are being pressured by the governors in charge, if they move into the NGOs it will be better for them, they have no freedom if they stay here.”

The rings around their neck are cultural shackles. The Long Neck Karin are faced with a fatal alternative. Is it better to return to Burma, and risk death, or better to remain as a stateless sideshow attraction in Thailand? On the other hand, the Long Neck Karin, because of their unique appearance, are the only one of Burma’s many ethnic minorities who has this option of escape.

Antonio Graceffo is an adventure travel and martial arts author, living in Asia. His specialties include ethnic minorities, languages, and martial arts. He has studied Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple and lived in the last Muay Thai monastery in Thailand. He has published four books on
See his website:

Contact Antonio: [email protected]